Global Policy Forum

More Muslim Troops

Wall Street Journal
December 20, 2004

Amid all of the second-guessing on Iraq, one thing we haven't heard are many constructive ideas. So allow us to promote a proposal now knocking around the Pentagon that the U.S. try again to get some foreign Islamic troops to help with security before, during and after the January 30 Iraq elections.

The U.S. has attempted this in the past, and the Turks formally offered 10,000 troops before Iraqis rejected the idea in 2003. But as immediate neighbors, and rivals of the Kurds, the Turks arouse special sensitivities. We have in mind troops from three other, more distant, Muslim countries with professional militaries that might be pleased to take credit for assisting a democratic Iraq.

Pakistan has a force of roughly 620,000 men, Bangladesh has about 125,000 under arms, and Indonesia has more than 300,000. The Pakistan and Bangladeshi forces are predominantly Sunni, especially in the officer corps, and thus could be deployed in Fallujah and the rest of the Sunni Triangle. Indonesia's military is dominated by that country's distinctive, moderate form of Shia Islam, so its troops might monitor polling places and trouble spots in the largely Shia Iraqi south. As fellow Muslims, their presence might be more reassuring than U.S. forces, which in any event couldn't be everywhere even if every American under arms were sent to Iraq.

All three countries have refused such U.S. requests in the past, but that was during early post-invasion days when the U.S.-led Coalition was an occupying force. The current task is to provide security for an election that will create a self-governing Iraq. The more successful the election and its aftermath are, the faster the U.S. can draw down its forces. These Muslim countries would thus be assisting in the creation of a new, democratic Iraq.

Indonesia's new President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is himself a former general who was democratically elected this year. He might like the greater global status and pro-democracy credentials that such assistance would confer. For his part, too, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf very much wants to be seen as a supporter of democratic elections. While assisting in Iraq would be controversial among his fundamentalist enemies, it might enhance his standing with others who like the idea of assisting their Sunni brethren in getting to the polls and claiming their share of power in Baghdad. Ditto for the democratically elected Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

It's true that time is short with only six weeks until the January 30 vote. But the contribution of these Muslim troops would also be important after the election, given the possibility that losing candidates or parties may create trouble, with the potential for ethnic clashes.

We suppose this idea won't impress those Beltway warriors who are preoccupied with forcing Donald Rumsfeld's retirement. On the other hand, it would do a lot more good where it really counts, on the ground in Iraq.

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