RIYADH (AFP)-The price of crude oil has hit US$493 a barrel after a war of succession for the Saudi Arabian Crown quickly erupted following the death of King Fahd on August 1.
The Saudi Royal family had initially moved quickly to name Fahd's brother Crown Prince Abdullah as King following the death, while Prince Sultan was named the new Crown Prince. Saudi spokesman had asserted that there was no change in its oil export policy in Saudi Arabia's pivotal place as the world's biggest oil producer.
Yet as the desert country desperately tried to maintain a façade of continuity and stability, tensions quickly grew within the Saudi royal family leading to increasing behind the scenes turmoil.
Crown Prince Abdullah has run the country since King Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995. Yet the new king Abdullah got on very badly with his designated successor Prince Sultan. They are members of the same generation as King Fahd, all being sons of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia King Abdul Aziz.
The various armed forces of Saudi Arabia had been led by competing and opposed princes. The military is led by Sultan, the internal security forces by Naif, and the tribal National Guard are commanded by Abdullah. Now, all three are at war, and desperate to maintain and enhance their positions with the aide of billions of dollars of American weapons.
The disgruntled next generation who will succeed the ageing Royals have also joined the warring factions, variously linked to one of the three military groups, as well as to Islamic militants who have been waging a terrorist campaign in Saudi Arabia and now have taken the opportunity of the death of the king to revive their attacks.
The princes and other militants who have been waiting in the wings are now warring to seize the oil wealth and the Crown, and to claim the prestige that comes from governing the two holy Islamic shrines at Mecca and Medina. The most determined and disciplined fighters within the factions are the followers of the Saudi radical Osama bin Laden.
Fighting has led to a wholesale Kuwaiti-type bombing of most of Saudi Arabia's oil wells, including the massive Ghawar field. The oil price is expected to climb further as oil shortages worsen and ripple through a shattered world economy.