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Jordan ready to send troops to Iraq if asked
Updated: 2004-07-02 08:39

Jordan said Thursday it was willing to send troops to Iraq, becoming the first Arab state to do so, if Baghdad's new interim government requested it.

King Abdullah, whose country would also be the first of Iraq's neighbors to send troops, was speaking in a television interview with Britain's BBC Newsnight program. He said he had not yet discussed the issue with Iraqis.

Jordan's King Abdullah has offered troops if Iraq's new government wants them. [AFP]
Abdullah's comments, welcomed by U.S. officials, reflect a major shift in his country's views on the international military presence in Iraq now that Washington has handed power to Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's interim government.

"My position has been beforehand not to send troops ... because of Jordanian history with Iraq," he said. "I felt that all countries that surround Iraq have their own agendas, so maybe we're not the right people to go in for the job."

"However, now there's an interim government and, we hope, a fully independent process very soon in Iraq. I presume, if the Iraqis ask us for help directly it will be very difficult for us to say no," he said.

"My message to the president and prime minister is: tell us what you want, tell us how we can help and we have 110 percent support for this," he said.

Iraq's former Governing Council, the U.S.-backed authority that preceded the interim government sworn in this week, firmly refused to have any troops from neighboring countries on its soil, raising the possibility any offer now by Jordan might also be turned down.

In Washington, U.S. officials welcomed the prospect of Jordanian troops in Iraq, but were at pains to portray any such move as a service to Iraq rather than the United States.

"A key thing to keep in mind is that the world and international community are no longer responding directly to the United States. They're responding to the sovereign nation of Iraq," said a senior official who asked not to be identified.

"To have a neighbor, to have Muslim troops contribute to the stability of the country, would be important because they (Iraq) need assistance on security. To have fellow Arabs patrolling I'm sure would be welcome."

Muslim Turkey said last year, in response to a U.S. request, that it was ready to send troops to Iraq but then withdrew the offer when the Governing Council opposed the move.

At the time, Jordan criticized Turkey's troops offer.

Before last year's Iraq war, Jordan trod a diplomatic tightrope, wanting to avoid its mistake over the 1991 Gulf War when it refused to join an anti-Iraq coalition that led to isolation by oil-rich Gulf states.

Public opinion in Jordan, whose population is mostly of Palestinian origin, is strongly opposed to U.S. policy in the region and to Jordan's 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

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