Proposals for a Muslim force for Iraq moved forward today with the news that Pakistan had talked to Saudi officials and Yemen and Bahrain had offered some military help.
Arab and Muslim governments say they want to help restore calm in Iraq – and have an interest in ensuring violence there does not destabilise the entire region. But they must move carefully if they are to avoid angering their citizens, many of whom are hostile towards the United States and what is seen as Iraq’s US-backed government.
The Muslim force initiative floated in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday “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”, said Dawoud al-Sheryan, a Saudi political analyst. But al-Sheryan said he feared the United States only wanted a cover for continued occupation of Iraq.
Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamic group, spoke for many when he told The Associated Press: “In principle I totally reject and oppose any Arab or Islamic (country) sending troops to support the occupation in Iraq.”
Websites known for militant Muslim commentary were quick to post criticism of the proposal, aired at a news conference with visiting US secretary of state Colin Powell and Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal. A militant group yesterday posted an internet warning that threatens any Islamic or Arab nation which contributes troops to a Saudi-proposed Muslim force for Iraq.
“Our swords will be drawn in the face of anyone who co-operates with the Jews and the Christians,” the group said in its statement. “We will strike with an iron fist all the traitors from the Arab governments who co-operate with the Zionists, secretly or openly.”
The Saudi foreign minister said on Wednesday there had been preliminary discussions about the possibility of forming a Muslim force and deploying it in Iraq to supplement the US-led coalition at a time when other US allies – the Philippines, Spain, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua – have pulled out.
Faris Ghanim, a Yemeni political analyst, said Saudi Arabia had the stature to bring in other Arab and Muslim nations. Saudi Arabia would lend its moral weight as the custodian of Islam’s main shrines and would probably help pay for the effort. Saudi Arabia would not, though, send its own troops, as the Iraqis have said they do not want their neighbours to send military personnel 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. Yesterday, senior Pakistani officials said 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 was considering sending troops to Iraq, an official with the foreign ministry said no decision had been made and none was expected soon because government leaders were on holiday through August.
In Tunisia, which holds the presidency of the Arab League, foreign ministers from Algeria, Bahrain and Tunisia met their Iraqi counterpart to discuss prospects of sending of Arab troops to Iraq.
The ministers discussed how Arab countries could help people in Iraq and strike a joint Arab position on the role to play in Iraq, said Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki. ”Up to now, there has been no common position,” he said.
In Jakarta yesterday, Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman 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 UN framework.”
Yemen had offered earlier this month to help in a UN mission in Iraq, provided all coalition forces withdraw. Bahrain has said it was ready to send a naval force if asked by the new Iraqi government.
Commenting on the Muslim force proposal, Arab League envoy to Britain Ali Hamid said in London that the idea could gain international support as long as it was accompanied by a clear US commitment to withdraw from Iraq and was mandated by the United Nations Security Council.
Many Arab countries have indicated they would be willing to get more involved in Iraq if they can do so under the UN, rather than a perceived US, umbrella.