King Fahd, the chief of Saudi Arabia's armed forces, reshuffled the army high command March 21, according to a statement released by the royal court. The announcement came four days after U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney met with Saudi leader Prince Abdullah during a Middle East tour intended to build support for a possible U.S. campaign against Iraq and the current operations against al Qaeda.
Lt. Gen. Sultan bin Adi al-Muteiry, the former commander of the Saudi ground forces, was appointee to the newly created post of deputy chief of staff of the armed forces. Maj. Gen. Hussein bin Abdullah al-Qbeel, deputy ground forces commander, was promoted to lieutenant general and appointed ground forces commander. The appointments will come into effect April 15.
The reshuffle comes at a tense time for the ruling Saudi family. The kingdom is at odds with Washington over U.S. policy on Iraq and its own policy on al Qaeda and other extremist threats. The United States is reportedly moving military equipment from its bases in Saudi Arabia into Qatar. And the royal family is beset by intrigue and power plays: King Fahd remains in a semi-permanent state of near-death, Abdullah has assumed the country's leadership and Prince Sultan is eyeing the throne.
The reshuffle is happening in Saudi Arabia's regular army forces, which are controlled by Prince Sultan; Abdullah controls the powerful National Guard. Both Sultan and the nearly incapacitated Fahd are generally friendlier with Washington than is Abdullah. It is very likely that Sultan and Fahd trusted both of the generals who were promoted.
It is yet unclear exactly what is happening inside the Saudi leadership, but it appears that the pro-Western Sultan and Fahd are strengthening their grip on the military.
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