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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 July, 2004, 05:51 GMT 06:51 UK
Saudis propose Muslim Iraq force
US troops in Baghdad
The plan might gain support if it enabled US forces to withdraw
Saudi Arabia has proposed that a new international military force drawn exclusively from Muslim countries be sent to Iraq.

The plan was raised in talks between US Secretary of State Colin Powell and senior Saudi officials in the city of Jeddah.

A number of Islamic nations had been approached, a Saudi official said.

The talks came as the White House condemned a suicide bombing which killed scores of people in Iraq.

But it said the attack in Baquba, north-east of Baghdad, would not derail efforts to rebuild the country.

Iraqi officials raised the number killed in the Wednesday morning blast to 70; dozens more people were injured.

Witnesses said a suicide bomber drove a vehicle into a crowded market area, as men queued to join the police.

Across Iraq, more than 100 people were killed on Wednesday in the worst day of violence since the handover of sovereignty exactly a month earlier.

'A goal'

The Saudi Foreign Minister, Saud al-Faisal, confirmed that preliminary discussions had taken place about a Muslim force, but gave no details.

A US state department spokesman told reporters the talks dealt with facilitating "the deployment of troops from Muslim countries not bordering Iraq to help... Iraqis establish security."

Iraqi crouches in front of charred minibus
The Baquba blast demonstrates the insecurity in Iraq

This is a goal "we support and we will keep talking about", Richard Boucher said in comments reported by AFP news agency.

A senior Saudi official said the kingdom had been exploring the idea for the last two weeks - and had made initial approaches to a range of Islamic nations.

Saudi officials also said they had discussed the idea with the UN and Iraqi leaders, and that the details were still being worked out.


The BBC's Jill McGivering, travelling with Mr Powell, says it might be difficult to gain support for the plan from the public in many Muslim countries, who angrily opposed the US-led action in Iraq.

Much will also depend on the mandate under which it would operate and it would also have to be invited by the interim Iraqi government, she says.

Our correspondent suggests it might help if the deployment of Muslim troops was seen as part of a broader process of the gradual withdrawal of US and former coalition forces.

Many in the US public might support the idea of their troops extricating themselves from Iraq as soon as possible and returning home.

But the question might be whether a loss of control on the ground is a price Washington would be prepared to pay, she adds.

The BBC's Fergal Parkinson
"A senior official admitted they have secretly been working on the proposal for the past two weeks"


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