Powell discusses possibility of Muslim force in Iraq
Associated Press Writer
JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) – Secretary of State Colin Powell and top Saudi officials held talks Wednesday on the possibility of forming a Muslim force and deploying it in Iraq to supplement to the U.S.-led coalition.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal acknowledged at a news conference with Powell that preliminary discussions on the subject had been conducted but he gave no details. Powell declined to comment on the issue.
It’s unclear why Saudi Arabia was involved in the negotiations since its troops would not be in any Muslim force, consistent with Iraqi wishes that none of its neighbors send military personnel to avoid possible complications in regional politics.
Some of the countries mentioned as possible participants in a replacement force – Malaysia, Algeria, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Morocco – are from far outside the region.
A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States is interested in the idea. He offered no further comment except to say that any Muslim force that goes to Iraq would serve as a supplement to the U.S.-led coalition force.
Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Jaafari was traveling in Kuwait and not available to comment, aide Adnan Assadi said.
Powell is planning a meeting here Thursday with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. It was unclear whether Allawi took part in Wednesday’s discussions.
Meantime, Saudi officials said the kingdom is normalizing relations with Iraq for the first time since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The United States has been worried about defections from the coalition forces already in Iraq. Membership has declined from 36 nations to 31. During a visit Tuesday to Hungary, Powell stressed the need for the coalition to remain intact, lest despotic rule return to Iraq.
A month ago, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution that offered a measure of legitimacy to the interim government. But no government since then has publicly stepped forward to offer troops to the coalition force, which now numbers about 160,000 troops, the vast majority of whom are American.
Powell is on the third leg of a weeklong visit to Central Europe and the Middle East. He flew here from Egypt on Wednesday afternoon and met with King Fahd, Crown Prince Abdullah and al-Faisal.
At a news conference, Powell reaffirmed that the United States remained steadfast in its determination to assist Iraq as it attempts the difficult transition to democracy.
“We will not waver,” Powell said, even in the face of the “horrible murders” that continue to be carried out by insurgents.