Africa, Headlines, Middle East & North Africa

IRAQ: Arab Troops Would Be Unwelcome

Dahr Jamail

BAGHDAD, Aug 4 2004 (IPS) - The appointed Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi faces vehement opposition to his move to deploy troops from other Muslim countries.

Allawai’s push follows a rash of suicide attacks that have rocked an increasingly unstable Iraq. He called on Arab military assistance in Iraq after he met with the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia last week.

“The participation of Arab and Muslim states is important not only to support Iraq – Iraq will be able to overcome its difficulties – but it is important for the region to have a decisive position and decisive role against these groups that threaten the stability of the countries in the region,” he said.

Allawi told reporters that Arab states considering deploying troops to Iraq should not be deterred by the ongoing kidnappings. His remarks did little to change policies or perceptions.

Egypt has turned down the idea. Its foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said after a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak that Egypt will “not send forces under any circumstances” to Iraq.

Arab countries have become increasingly concerned that violence and instability in Iraq could spread across their borders, and most leaders have repeatedly rebuffed Allawi’s pleas for troops.

Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gadhafi recently urged Arab and Muslim nations again not to send troops into Iraq. Several Arab and Muslim leaders have indicated that they would enter Iraq only under a United Nations umbrella.

Arab governments also face a growing domestic perception of resistance within Iraq as a freedom struggle against the U.S.-backed government of Allawi.

Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki said following recent discussions at the ministerial committee of the League in Tunisia that no agreement had been reached on a Saudi proposal.

The Saudis have not offered their own troops. They say they would look for Arab and Muslim troops from countries not bordering Iraq to supplement coalition troops in Iraq, but not replace them. Under the proposed plan, these troops would be under U.S. control.

Powell acknowledged that “these are preliminary ideas” and that questions remain who would command the Arab troops. The United States is highly unlikely to give up control of the multinational force in Iraq before its troops exit the country. At least 913 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq during the invasion and subsequent occupation.

The governments of Pakistan, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and Tunisia are few among those who have said they want to help restore calm in Iraq.

They have had their warnings. Al-Jazeera reports that two Pakistani men were abducted and killed by a group calling itself The Islamic Army. The men were working for a Kuwaiti company.

A message posted on the website of a group called Islamic Unification has warned Arab and Islamic countries against sending troops to Iraq. It says it would “hit with an iron fist all the traitors who cooperate with the Zionists.” The ‘Death Group’ kidnapped four Jordanian workers and told Dubai TV that Jordanian interests in Iraq will be targeted.

“I think the Arab troops would be like the goalkeeper in football,” said Salam Talib, a Shia Iraqi computer engineer. “They will get all the hard shots instead of U.S. troops. Iraqis will never accept foreign troops here.”

Many Iraqis oppose troops from Arab or Muslim countries because they would be viewed as collaborators with U.S. occupiers.

“I think it will not help because it is too late,” says Rana Alaiouby, a Sunni woman from Baghdad. “It will be perceived as an order from the Americans, so that will mean more trouble and violence here. If they (Arab countries) send troops here, they will be sending them to their death.”

Many Sunni Iraqis hold similar views. “Why would Arab governments send troops here against the wishes of their people?” asked Abu Talat, a retired Iraqi army officer. “It is shameful to send Arabs and Muslims to fight instead of the Americans. If any of them are killed, it doesn’t matter to the Americans. I think this is an attempt by Israel to divide the Arab unity. I want the Americans to look further than their noses.”

Sunni, Shia or Kurdish, Iraqis appear opposed to more troops being sent to their country, even if they are from Middle East countries.

“How can bringing more military personnel here from foreign countries help anything,” said Hussein Ismail, a Kurdish trader in Baghdad. “Besides, if the Americans haven’t been able to solve the problem, how could troops from smaller countries do the job?”

 
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