Why ISIL’s Attacks on Shiites of Saudi Arabia Threaten World Economy

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | –

Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) took responsibility for a terrorist attack Friday on the Shiite al-Husayn Mosque in Dammam, which left three victims dead. Saudi security forces are taking credit for spotting that the car the terrorists were driving was suspicious and preventing it from getting too near the mosque. But Shiites are saying that two youth from the mosque blocked the attackers and were blown up themselves.


Relations were already bad between the ruling hyper-Sunni Wahhabis and the Shiite minority before the bombings this month.

Saudi Arabia produces 10.3 million barrels a day of petroleum. The whole world only produces 93 million barrels a day, so Saudi Arabia is doing like 11 percent of world production.

When you say Saudi Arabia has petroleum, you are really talking about the Eastern Province along the Gulf littoral. There’s something demographically distinctive about that area. It has traditionally had a big Shiite population. Most of the kingdom’s 2.4 million or so Shiites (out of a citizen population of a little over 20 million) live in the Eastern Province where the oil is. Significant numbers of the workers on the oil rigs are Shiite.

ISIL and the other al-Qaeda ofshoots in the Eastern Province is trying to provoke Saudi Shiites against their own government. If they succeed, Eastern Province could go up in flames. And with it, 11% of the world’s petroleum. The impact on world energy prices would be enormous (it wouldn’t be an 11 percent impact but an exponential one.)

Iranian press is reporting demonstrations Friday in Shiite cities like Qatif, but cannot confirm.

Related video:

Ruptly TV: “Saudi Arabia: Blast outside Dammam mosque kills at least three”

13 Responses

  1. An article in the Guardian in 2004 indicates how important and how vulnerable eastern Saudi Arabia is, especially the terminal at Ras Tanura.
    “An assault on Ras Tanura, however, would be vastly more serious. As much as 80% of the near 9m barrels of oil a day pumped out by Saudi is believed to end up being piped from fields such as Ghawar to Ras Tanura in the Gulf to be loaded on to supertankers bound for the west”. link to theguardian.com

  2. Juan, Daesh seems not to understand your nuanced view of Sunni/Shia relations in the middle east. They beat up Sunnis in Iraq to get them to oppose the government there, and they beat up Shiites in Saudi Arabia to get them to oppose their government there. Without a longstanding hot/cold Shia/Sunni split, this wouldn’t even be conceivable, let alone effective.

    • “They beat up Sunnis in Iraq to get them to oppose the government there, and they kill Shiites.”

      There fixed that for you.

  3. Are these really ex-Baathists trying to attack Saudi ArAbia from several directions (Yemen, and within Saudi itself?) and possibly aligning with Iran? I naively wonder if that’s plausible.

  4. Over the past year, as oil prices were dropping like a stone why didn’t Saudi Arabia cut production and try to stabilize prices? They took a big hit on revenue but refused to act.

    • They are trying to bankrupt their enemies, Iran and Russia. In the mid 1980s Reagan and the Saudi King made a secret deal to overproduce oil and collapse prices to ruin the USSR’s export revenue – successfully.

      • You forgot about Venezuela. Also increasing output also has the nice side effect that, you will have turned more oil into profits before prices really start to plunge due to strongly diminished demand. For the USSR im sure it was more about the soaring dollar due to the decoppling from goldstandard, after Vietnam war drove the US into too deep deficit. Many Eastern European countries had dollar denominated debt, so the dollar rise rendered them bancrupt.

    • By cutting the price of oil Saudi Arabia is trying to undermine the fracking industry in the US. If the US became self-sufficient in oil, then who would defend Saudi Arabia?

  5. Extremists on both sides, Wahhabi and Shia, have self-contradictory views over the legitimacy of political leadership and power. Selective morality, subservience to power, the preservation of the privilege of the elite, same old, same old.

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