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Jordan, Yemen may send Iraq peacekeepers
Updated: 2004-07-03 09:15

Jordan and Yemen offered troops to Iraq — a major policy shift that could be an attempt to encourage other Arab and Muslim nations to help the country's new U.S.-backed government restore security.

But the risks are considerable if Jordan and Yemen are seen taking up arms against the Iraqis, or if Iraq's neighbors, like Turkey and Iran, who already have influence or ambitions in that country, follow their lead and offer forces.

Iraq's new authorities have been opposed to neighboring states, particularly Iran, Turkey and Syria, sending in troops. But the offers from Iraq's western neighbor, Jordan, and Yemen will be welcome in the United States, which has led a coalition of 33 countries — none of them Arab — in trying to secure postwar Iraq.

In Britain, Jordan's King Abdullah II said he was willing to send troops to Iraq. It was unclear what role Jordanian troops would serve, but Jordan has offered to train Iraqi soldiers and police in Jordan.

"I presume that if the Iraqis ask us for help directly, it would be very difficult for us to say no," Abdullah told The British Broadcasting Corp. on Thursday. "Our message to the president or the prime minister is: Tell us what you want. Tell us how we can help, and you have 110 percent support from us."

Yemen announced Friday that it was willing to send peacekeepers to Iraq, but only if they were part of a U.N.-controlled force.

The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution June 8 authorizing the multinational force to remain in Iraq. The resolution also paved the way for other countries to join.

Jordanian political analyst Labib Kamhawi said Jordan, like other Arab states, initially refused to send troops to Iraq, but the U.S.-led coalition's transfer of sovereignty to Iraq's interim government "requires a local facade, which means that Arab and Muslim contribution is now a top priority."

"Jordan may not necessarily send troops," Kamhawi said, "but it is opening the door for others to say or do the same because the time has come to give the U.S. occupation in Iraq a facelift."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan refused to say if Washington is expecting Jordanian and Yemeni troop deployments to Iraq, but added that the possibility was "another sign the international community is standing with the Iraqi people."

A senior Bush administration official suggested such a deployment was unlikely.

"All they've done is make an offer," the official said of Yemen and Jordan. "It doesn't cost them anything to say that."

Jordan is a moderate Arab state with strong ties to Washington. It also enjoyed close relations with Saddam Hussein's regime, which supplied oil for cash-strapped Jordan.

Iraqi government officials were not immediately available for comment Friday, the Muslim Sabbath. The disbanded Iraqi Governing Council, of which interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was a member, decided not to seek troops from neighboring countries.

Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki said Iraq opposes neighboring states sending in troops, but that it has expressed a willingness to consider offers "case by case" with other Arab and Islamic countries.

Jordan, like Iraq, is concerned that intervention by some Iraqi neighbors could undermine the country's political momentum and aggravate its security situation.

Turkey, another Muslim but non-Arab American ally in the Middle East, has a long history of strife with Iraqi Kurds, who control the northern part of Iraq.

Iran, a Shiite-majority country, has much influence among Shiites in Iraq. But Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war in the 1980s, and it seems unlikely the Iraqi government would allow Iranian troops on its soil.

Syria is popular in certain quarters of Iraq's former Baath Socialist Party. A Syrian official repeated Damascus' position that the government would send peacekeeping forces to Iraq if the new government requested help, but only after U.S.-led forces depart.

Syria strongly opposed the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq and the idea of sending forces into its eastern neighbor. Washington imposed sanctions on Syria in May in response to allegations it was supporting terrorism and undermining U.S. efforts in Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, has said Iraqis would not accept troops from bordering states, including Turkey and Iran, under any circumstances.

King Abdullah said Thursday he had not discussed his troop offer with Iraqi authorities.

"I would feel that we are not the right people," Abdullah said. "But at the end of the day, if there is something we can provide, a service to the future of Iraqis, then we'll definitely study that proposal."

Abdullah's foreign minister, Marwan Muasher, told The Associated Press on Friday that the king's "statement was only an expression of support."

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