King Abdullah: Iraq's Neighbors Should Not Send Troops

Published May 17, 2004

| Associated Press

Jordan will not send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, and neither should any other neighboring nations because it could be too tempting to use them to improperly influence Iraqi society, King Abdullah II (searchsaid Monday.

Jordan supports sending other Arab troops, and is willing to help in other ways, Abdullah told a small group of reporters, but he said it wouldn't be appropriate to send Jordanian forces to Iraq because, like any country bordering Iraq, "we have an agenda."

"It's too tempting to use the presence of your troops to have an impact on society inside Iraq," Abdullah said on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum (searchat the Dead Sea.

"I've taken the decision, truly, from a moral point of view, that I don't think it's right for Jordan to send troops to Iraq. And I don't think it's right, at the same time, for anybody else (bordering Iraq). ... We have our special interests," he said.

"It is right for Arab troops to be committed, but not those that surround Iraq — it's better for us to sit this one out," he said.

He noted Jordan (search) has sent troops elsewhere on peacekeeping missions, including Bosnia, Croatia and Afghanistan. Abdullah also noted his country has been training Iraqis in Jordan and has medical facilities inside Iraq.

"We're prepared to accept all sorts of support to Iraq, but as for the military presence, it may be questionable," he said.

The Hashemite dynasty that is the Jordanian royal family ruled Iraq from the end of World War I, when Britain installed King Faisal I, until 1958, when his grandson King Faisal II was killed in a coup. From time to time, speculation arises that Prince Hassan, the one-time heir to the Jordanian throne, would like to rule Iraq, and Abdullah has had to publicly quash such ideas in the past.

Among Iraq's other neighbors, both Turkey and Syria have Kurdish populations they fear could take inspiration from Iraqi Kurds elevated political status. Non-Arab and Shiite Muslim Iran is keenly interested in the fate of Iraqi Shiites — a long-oppressed majority under Saddam Hussein — and has been accused of meddling by the United States. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, both Sunni Muslim countries, also are worried about having a restive country dominated by Iraqi Shiites on their doorsteps.

Earlier this month, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq wants other Arab nations — but not its direct neighbors — to send troops to patrol Iraq. But he said support for the idea was so sparse at an Arab foreign ministers meeting that Iraq wouldn't make a formal request through the 22-nation Arab League, which has a summit of heads of state scheduled for next week in Tunisia.

"We presented it as a question: `Is there any possibility to send Arab peacekeeping forces, though not from countries neighboring Iraq?"' Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said. "The response was not encouraging, and the subject was not followed up."

Zebari said Iraq is still interested in the idea — adding, "we need the support" — but specifically ruled out forces from neighboring Turkey because of opposition from Iraqi Kurds.

Instead of troops, Zebari sought qualified Arab backing of the U.S.-picked interim government and of plans for the U.S. transfer of sovereignty to Iraq on June 30. Even that met with resistance, with some Arab nations fearing it would legitimize the American occupation of Iraq.

A quarter century ago, the Arabs set a precedent for military intervention close to home. After Syria invaded Lebanon in 1976 vowing to end civil war there, the Cairo-based Arab League agreed to send a joint Arab peacekeeping force. Syria dominated the force, which became increasingly drawn into the sectarian fighting instead of neutrally keeping the peace, and the civil war dragged on until 1990.

King Abdullah also warned that the transfer of sovereignty would be difficult and said that getting stability on the ground now will require "some pretty dramatic moves" — and would have been much easier if handled differently earlier.

"The handover of Iraq is going to be tough because the situation on the ground is tough," he said. "The difficulty would be in picking who is prime minister. You're going to need somebody from inside that has been in Iraq all his life as opposed to somebody who's coming from outside."

Governing Council members, he said, do not appear to be very popular among ordinary Iraqis, who would be more likely to identify more with Iraqi leaders from inside Iraq. Many of the U.S.-appointed members of the Iraqi Governing Council were Iraqi exiles who returned from abroad after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted in April 2003.

Soon after his remarks, the head of Iraqi Governing Council, Izzadine Saleem, was among four Iraqis killed in a car bombing near a U.S. checkpoint in central Baghdad. Saleem was a Shiite and leader of the Islamic Dawa Movement in the southern city of Basra. He was a writer, philosopher and political activist, who served as editor of several newspapers and magazines.

He was the second member of the U.S. appointing Governing Council to be assassinated since the group was established last July.

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