Top Saudi official meets US-backed militias in Syria’s Raqqa

Top Saudi official meets US-backed militias in Syria’s Raqqa
2 min read
19 October, 2017
A high-level Saudi official is in the Syrian city of Raqqa, which was recently retaken from the Islamic State group, to discuss his country’s role in reconstruction efforts
Sabhan (L) is a controversial Saudi minister, formerly ambassador to Baghdad [Twitter/Brett McGurk]

A state-linked Saudi news site says a high-level Saudi official is in the Syrian city of Raqqa, which was recently retaken from the Islamic State group, to discuss his country’s role in reconstruction efforts.

Okaz quoted unnamed Saudi sources on Thursday as saying that Thamer al-Sabhan is in Raqqa to meet with members of the city’s civil council to discuss Saudi Arabia’s “prominent role in reconstruction.”

Okaz says the United Arab Emirates will also play a role in rebuilding.

Some commentators however said the purpose of the visit is political, and aimed at sending messages to both Turkey and the Syrian regime, regarding Saudi Arabia's future role in Syria.

Saudi Arabia has accepted an offer from the United States to help in rebuilding Raqqa, in return for influence with the tribal Arab communities in eastern Syria, said Saudi journalist Mohammed al-Abdullah to Al Jazeera.

Saudi Arabia has been a key backer of Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime.

The report included an image of al-Sabhan apparently in Raqqa with Brett McGurk, the top US envoy for the coalition battling the IS group, of which the kingdom is a member.

Al-Sabhan is minister of state for Arab Affairs. He was previously the ambassador to Iraq, but left amid threats from Iranian-backed militias.

Sabhan recently caused controversy in Lebanon when he called for building a coalition to fight powerful Iran-backed Lebanese Hizballah, which is fighting alongside the regime of Bashar al-Assad.