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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 21:09 GMT 22:09 UK
Arab troops and the Iraq dilemma
By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab affairs analyst

A senior Iraqi official has said it is unlikely a Jordanian offer to send troops to Iraq would be accepted.

Amman shop-window
Photos of Iraq's ex-leader and Jordan's king in an Amman shop

The deputy foreign minister, Hamid al-Bayati, told the BBC Iraq would accept troops from Arab states but not those from its immediate neighbours.

Mr Bayati said the Iraqi Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, has already written to Egypt, Bahrain and the Sultanate of Oman asking them to contribute troops to Iraq.

The three countries, unlike Jordan, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, do not share a border with Iraq.

Mr Bayati told the BBC Iraq's immediate neighbours have their own interests in his country and that, as he put it, may "complicate the situation" further in Iraq.

Disagreement

The idea of deploying troops from Muslim countries in Iraq has been on the cards for some time.

It is based on the assumption that such troops would be more sensitive to Iraqi culture and for that reason, Iraqis would be less hostile to them.

But when the idea was floated last year it produced mixed reactions from within Iraq itself.

The Iraqi Governing Council - which has now been replaced by the Interim Government - could not agree.

Those against the plan expressed views similar to the one stated by Mr Bayati.

They feared neighbouring countries would use their troops to further their own agendas at the expense of Iraqi national interests.

Suspicion

The Kurds in particular were worried by the prospect of Turkish troops deployed anywhere near their semi-autonomous region in the north.

King Abdullah watches a military exercise in the Jordanian desert
King Abdullah (far right) said Jordan would send troops if asked

Turkey is opposed to granting greater autonomy to the Iraqi Kurds; and the Kurds fear that Turkey may use such troops to curb Kurdish ambitions.

The Iraqi fear also betrays a suspicion that Iraq's immediate neighbours are wary of the prospect of a new, prosperous and democratic Iraq and that they may use their troops to thwart that ambition.

Arab governments were also sceptical to the proposals that emerged as Iraqi insurgents stepped up their attacks on coalition troops last year.

Hostile public

These governments were opposed to the war on Iraq and they suspected that the proposals were designed to help the Americans to quell the insurgency.

That is particularly problematic for Arab leaders because large sectors of their population regard it not as an insurgency but as a legitimate Iraqi resistance to foreign occupation.

Now that power has been transferred to the Iraqis, Arab governments that were willing to send troops to Iraq may try to present the issue to its public as way of helping a brotherly Arab state.

But it seems unlikely that Arab public opinion would be swayed by this argument.

Nor is it certain that the Iraqis would overcome their reluctance to involve their immediate neighbours in their internal affairs.

At this stage, many Iraqis feel that the best contribution their neighbours can make to stability in Iraq is to prevent Arab fighters from crossing into their country.




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