Americans debate if Saudi Arabia is friend or foe

W By Marcus Mrowka

U-WIRE Washington Bureau

wASHINGTON (U-Wire) – As President George W. Bush continues his push for a war against Iraq, the United States faces the loss of a key Middle East ally – Saudi Arabia. Despite a long history of cooperation between the two nations, anti-American sentiment is growing in Saudi Arabia over a new lawsuit filed by family members of last year’s terrorist attack victims against key Saudi princes and financial institutions.

In Operation Desert Storm in 1990, Saudi Arabia played an important military role in the U.S. victory over Iraq by allowing the U.S. military to use Saudi bases. The use of the bases gave the United States a jump-off point for all attacks – a luxury that the Bush administration is hoping to acquire once again.

Saudi Arabia said recently that U.S. troops will be allowed to set up bases in their country pending U.N. approval of a resolution against Iraq. This is a change from earlier statements made by the Saudi government that refused to let the U.S. station troops there.

Some say it was a fear of being pushed aside by the United States that led to the reversal in the decision.

“There is a feeling among Saudis of having no choice,” says Saudi lawyer Mohammed Saed Tayyeb.

But the issue doesn’t stop there. There is a growing expression of anti-Americanism in Saudi Arabia with some Saudis angry over U.S. support of Israeli policies. Some even allege that U.S. politics have become infused with more conservative and Christian beliefs.

A grassroots organized boycott of American goods has helped lower U.S. exports to Saudi Arabia by 30 percent this year.

Another issue straining the friendship between the two countries is the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers that slammed four commercial airliners into American targets last year, killing more than 3,000 people, are now known to have been citizens of Saudi Arabia.

Some Americans don’t see Saudi Arabia as an ally at all and plan to hold the country accountable for the events of Sept. 11, 2001. More than 600 family members, firefighters and rescue workers, under the name Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism, have filed a $116 trillion lawsuit.

The group is suing seven international banks, eight Islamic foundations, the Saudi bin Laden Group, three Saudi Arabian princes and the government of Sudan. Representatives from the group say all of the defendants are in some way responsible for financing the al-Qaida network and last year’s attacks.

“It’s up to us to bankrupt the terrorists and those who finance them so they will never again have the resources to commit such atrocities against the American people as we experienced on Sept. 11,” said Deena Burnett, whose husband was aboard the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, in a recent statement.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs say they are sure members of the Saudi royal family have contributed and supported the al-Qaida network as well as Osama bin Laden.

It is unclear as of yet if families can sue an ally of the United States, but the Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism is set to put that question to the test – arguing that Saudi Arabia isn’t the good friend the United States thought it was.

“If the odds are stacked against us, we’ll beat them,” said Matt Selino who lost his son in one of the collapsed World Trade Center towers, “and we will pursue this action until justice is served and terrorism is stopped.”