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Arab gov'ts weigh sending troops to Iraq
(Agencies)
Updated: 2004-07-30 08:55

Arab governments say they want to help restore calm in Iraq and Pakistan is discussing the possibility of sending several hundred troops. But a militant group warned Thursday that they would attack any country that provided troops.

Saudi Arabia has proposed such a force, and Yemen and Bahrain have offered help under certain conditions, and foreign ministers from Algeria, Bahrein and Tunisia met Thursday with their Iraqi counterpart to discuss prospects of sending of Arab troops to Iraq.

While Arab governments and other Muslim countries say they want to help restore calm in Iraq and have an interest in ensuring violence there does not destabilize the region they must move carefully to avoid angering their citizens, many of whom are hostile toward the United States and Iraq's U.S.-backed government.

The Internet warning threatened any Islamic or Arab nation that contributes troops to a Saudi-proposed Muslim force for Iraq, saying: "Our swords will be drawn in the face of anyone who cooperates with the Jews and the Christians. We will strike with an iron fist all the traitors from the Arab governments who cooperate with the Zionists secretly or openly."

The statement was issued in the name of the Jamaat al-Tawhid al-Islamiya Omar el-Mukhtar Brigade, a little known group whose main title means the Group of Islamic Monotheism. Omar el-Mukhtar fought the Italian occupation of Libya and was hanged in 1931.

The Muslim contribution to the U.S. -led coalition in Iraq, with 160,000 troops, has been scant. In Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State Colin Powell welcomed the Saudi initiative and said the time may be ripe for a more active role by Arab and Muslim countries.

Web sites known for militant Muslim commentary were quick to post criticisms of the proposal, which was disclosed at a news conference held Wednesday by Powell and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

An Iraqi militant group said Wednesday that it had killed two kidnapped Pakistani contractors to protest the possibility that Pakistan would send troops to Iraq.

The Muslim force initiative "will be a good one if it is fully implemented in a way that will enable Muslim troops to control security in Iraq and the Iraqi people will welcome it," Dawoud al-Sheryan, a Saudi political analyst, said Thursday.

But, reflecting Arab suspicions of American motives, al-Sheryan questioned whether the idea was just a cover for a continued U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest Islamic group, was even more negative. "In principle I totally reject and oppose any Arab or Islamic country sending troops to support the occupation in Iraq," he told The Associated Press.

The Saudi foreign minister said Wednesday there had been preliminary discussions about the possibility of sending a Muslim force to supplement the U.S.-led coalition after the withdrawal of some U.S. allies the Philippines, Spain, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

Faris Ghanim, a Yemeni political analyst, said Saudi Arabia has the stature to bring in other Arab and Muslim nations, noting its moral weight as the custodian of Islam's main shrines and the likelihood it would help pay for the force.

Saudi Arabia would not send its own soldiers, however, because Iraq's interim government has said it doesn't want any troops from neighboring countries, to avoid tempting anyone with a direct stake to meddle.

Pakistan, Malaysia, Algeria, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Morocco have been mentioned as possible Sources of troops.

In Tunis, foreign ministers from Algeria, Bahrein and Tunisia met Thursday with their Iraqi counterpart to discuss prospects of sending troops to Iraq, a Tunisian foreign ministry official on condition his name not be used.

Senior Pakistani officials said Thursday their prime minister had held talks in Saudi Arabia about the proposal, and one said the number of Pakistani soldiers contemplated was in the hundreds.

When asked if Morocco might participate, a Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity that no decision had been made and none was expected soon because government leaders were on vacation through August.

A spokesman for Indonesia's Foreign Ministry, Marty Natalegawa, said, "Our position remains that any possible Indonesian involvement, including dispatching our military personnel to Iraq, has to be within and under a U.N. framework."

Yemen offered earlier this month to help in a U.N. mission in Iraq, provided all forces in the current U.S.-led coalition withdraw. Bahrain's government has said it is ready to send a naval force if asked by the Iraqi government.

Speaking in London, Arab League envoy Ali Hamid said a Muslim military force could gain international support as long as it was accompanied by a clear U.S. commitment to withdraw from Iraq and was mandated by the U.N. Security Council.



 
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