Iraq asks for Muslim troops [Archives:2004/760/Front Page]

August 2 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

Last Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi asked Muslim nations to send troops to help stamp out insurgency and stabilize the war-torn country.
Allawi's appeal came a day after Saudi Arabia announced its proposal to bring Muslim forces together to assist bringing peace to Iraq that is continuing to experience ongoing violence.
Allawi stressed that a Muslim security force would not only help defeat insurgents in Iraq but also militant groups that are a threat to the rest of the Islamic world.
“The leaders of this region must unify and must stand as one group against those gangs, against those terrorists and those criminals who are threatening and causing a great deal of harm to the Arab world and the Islamic world,” said Allawi as he was joined by Secretary of State Colin Powell at a news conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Iraq still holds that bordering countries should not be allowed to join a force entering the country with fears that it could lead to political conflicts. Over a dozen Muslim countries not bordering Iraq are asked to contribute, including Yemen.
Early last month, the Yemeni government offered to dispatch troops to help stabilize the country, but under certain conditions: Yemeni forces could be sent after the US-led coalition forces have left the country. Up to now, the Yemeni government has not released a response to Allawi's latest appeal for Muslim countries to send security forces.
A Yemeni analyst says that the Yemeni government may reconsider sending a peacekeeping force, depending on what other Muslim countries decide.
“The government might consider sending soldiers, but only if other countries show a willingness to participate in a multi-Muslim force,” said the analyst. “Yemen may not want to be accused of not wanting to help another Middle East country.”
Others believe that Muslim countries sending troops to Iraq would be a very difficult task.
“The situation in Iraq is very dangerous,” said Abdullah Al-Faqih, Professor of Political Science at Sana'a University. “It is already dangerous with a huge US force in the country. And if you send troops, you will also become a target.”
Violence in Iraq still rules. The day before Allawi asked for help, an attack killed 68 Iraqis and wounded 56, about 35 miles outside of Baghdad, the capital. It was the worst attack since Allawi took office when the United States handed over sovereignty to the newly formed Iraqi government. Since the war began, over 900 US servicemen and women have been killed.
Soon after Allawi's appeal, a militant group displayed a message on the Internet that threatened to attack any Arab or Muslim state that contributes soldiers to assist Iraq.
“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 group said in its statement.
Last week, a militant group announced that it had killed two Pakistani hostages in protest at the possibility that Pakistan would send troops to Iraq.
“The Muslim countries might be able to help stabilize the country, but the initiative will be difficult to materialize. It is complex and has many factors involved,” said Khaled Al-Akwaa, Professor of Public Policy at Sana'a University.
Up to now, it is not clear whether Muslim countries are willing to commit to dispatching troops to Iraq. There are still no decisions on the size of the force and what the role will be for the multi-Muslim taskforce.
Arab governments also have to consider the public reaction to sending troops. Many may interpret sending troops as an act of supporting the US-led occupation of Iraq.
“I want to go to Iraq and fight the Americans,” said a Yemeni student. “Why would anyone want to fight with them while they are occupying Iraq?”
Al-Akwaa also said that Yemen may have to deal with the conflict in north Yemen before considering sending troops abroad. Fighting between government forces and followers of Muslim cleric Hussein Al-Houthi has now lasted for over a month and a half. The official death toll has reached 300 and thousands of civilians have left their homes in the area of the clashes.
A 30-strong delegation, made up of politicians and religious scholars, are negotiating with Al-Houthi to persuade him to surrender. President Ali Abdullah Saleh sent two delegations to negotiate with Al-Houthi in June, but the cleric refused to surrender.
The proposal to send Muslim troops to Iraq came at a time when the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee warned that the situation in Iraq is getting worse. It said that militant groups are flourishing and Iraq is “a battleground for Al-Qaeda.”
The Committee urged the British Government to encourage other nations to send soldiers to help bring stability to the Iraq.