Global Policy Forum

Saudis Take Lead on Muslim Forces for Iraq


By George Gedda

Associated Press
July 28, 2004

With American support, Saudi Arabia is taking the lead in trying to form a Muslim security force to help Iraq overcome its 15-month-old insurgency, U.S. and Saudi officials said Wednesday. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the issue with top Saudi officials after a stop in Egypt and had it on his agenda for Thursday's talks with Iraq's prime minister, Ayad Allawi, in Jiddah.

Word of the Saudis' effort came on the same day as a suicide car bomb northeast of Baghdad killed 68 Iraqis and wounded 56 others. It was the insurgents' deadliest strike since Allawi took office as head of the interim government a month ago. "We're taking this initiative because we want to help the Iraqi people reclaim their sovereignty as quickly as possible, because there is a tremendous desire in the Arab and Muslim worlds to help Iraq and because instability in Iraq has a negative impact on Saudi Arabia," said Adel al-Jubeir, a top Saudi government foreign policy adviser.

He spoke to reporters after Powell's meeting with King Fahd, Crown Prince Abdullah and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. A major Saudi concern in recent weeks has been the infiltration of militants from Iraq. Earlier, Saud told reporters that discussions about a proposed security force were at a preliminary stage. He refused to provide details. Powell, who is on a weeklong visit to Central Europe and the Middle East, declined comment.

His spokesman, Richard Boucher, said, "We discussed some ideas tonight with the Saudis that they have been discussing with others about how to facilitate the deployment of troops from Muslim countries. The goal is to help Iraqis establish security. It's a goal that they support, that we support and we'll keeping talking to them about it." Saudi officials said the kingdom is normalizing relations with Iraq for the first time since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

President Bush, in a telephone call Wednesday to Abdullah from his Texas ranch, thanked the crown prince for meeting with Powell. "The two of them discussed the situation in Iraq and Saudi efforts to fight terror on its own soil," said a White House spokesman, Trent Duffy.

Iraqi opposes deployment of foreign troops from neighboring countries. Some of the countries mentioned as possible participants in a security force — Malaysia, Algeria, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Morocco — are from far outside the region. The U.S.-led coalition force in Iraq numbers 160,000; all but 20,000 are Americans. U.S. and Saudi officials declined to describe the proposed Muslim force as a supplement to the coalition. They said that if the Muslim force develops, coalition troop numbers could be drawn down as security conditions improved.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been informed about the initiative, a senior Saudi official said. It was not clear whether a Security Council resolution would be required to authorize a Muslim force. The Arab League has been reluctant to confer legitimacy on the interim Iraq government because of the continuing U.S. troop deployment. League spokesman Hossam Zaki said Wednesday the organization's general stand on the deployment of troops was that any request for troops "should come from a legitimate Iraqi government, the force should not be part of the occupation of Iraq and should be authorized by a U.N. Security Council resolution and under U.N. leadership." Zaki indicated the league could not stop individual member states from sending troops to Iraq. He said members had reacted in different ways to the interim government's call for troops.

In Morocco, a Foreign Ministry official said he could not immediately comment on Morocco's stance in regards to sending troops to Iraq. Not a single Arab country is now a coalition participant and the numbers of Muslims in the coalition is believed to be scant. Politically, it would be far easier for Muslim countries to commit themselves as a group rather than individually.

American and Iraq efforts to lure new members into the coalition have not borne fruit. Indeed, Powell has exhorted coalition members to remain steadfast in their troop commitments to Iraq. The coalition membership has shrunk from 36 to 31 in recent weeks. Militants in Iraq have resorted to kidnappings against foreigners and other violent acts to encourage coalition members to abandon their commitment. Their most significant victory was the Philippines, which agreed to withdraw its 51-member unit from Iraq to spare the life of a kidnaped Filipino truck driver.

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