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Saudi Muslim Troop Idea 'Worth Pursuing,' Powell Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 30, 2004 – A recent suggestion by the Saudis to supplement coalition troops in Iraq with other Muslim forces "is an interesting idea worth pursuing," U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said today.

Powell, near the end of a trip to Eastern Europe and the Middle East, told reporters in Baghdad he has discussed the Saudi proposal with Iraqi leaders, President Bush, "my other colleagues back in Washington" and with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"We are examining the idea," he continued, with an eye to "various conditions that have to be met."

Ultimately, Powell said, it's up to the Iraqi interim government "to decide whether or not it is a direction in which they wish to move." The United States, he said, "will be playing its part in examining the Saudi proposal."

News reports say Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi responded favorably to a Saudi government proposal that suggested some Muslim states other than Iraq could provide security forces and other types of support to help quell insurgent violence and stabilize the country.

After meeting with Powell and senior Saudi leaders in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on July 29, Allawi called upon Arab leaders "to close ranks" against terrorism, because "basically, it's our fight."

"We are going to win; we have to win" the war against terrorists, Allawi also told reporters at the Jeddah press conference.

Powell said in Saudi Arabia July 29 that that other Muslim-country assistance sent to Iraq could "provide security to (Iraqi) facilities or protection to the U.N."

A senior Pakistani government official first floated the idea of other Muslim nations providing assistance to Iraq, news reports say, during a visit to Saudi Arabia last week.

Yet, other reports also say countries bordering Iraq, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, likely wouldn't send troops. Iraq had fought an eight-year war with Iran that ended in 1988, and Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia in 1990.

In Baghdad today, Powell noted that Iran "has the potential of playing a helpful role" in Iraq, but said, without being specific, he was "uneasy about some of the actions" the Iranians have taken.

"We hope that the Iranian authorities will realize that it is in their interest to have a stable Iraq as a neighbor," he said, adding, "too much blood has been shed" between Iraq and Iran over the years.

The two countries, Powell said, need "to find a way to work with each other and cooperate with each other." And "any actions taken by Iran which seek to gain influence in Iraq," Powell pointed out, will be "looked at with disfavor" by the United States.

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