KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysia's prime minister said Thursday his country probably won't send troops to Iraq, but he will urge other Islamic countries to do so.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (search), who is also chairman of the Islamic world's largest political group, said Muslim countries near Iraq should consider sending security forces now that the United States has handed over power to the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (search).
"Yes, power has been handed (to the Iraqis) but peace is not fully secured," Abdullah said in an interview with The Associated Press and the British newspaper The Guardian. "We feel very strongly that Muslim countries in the region are better placed to send their troops because it is near (to them), it is more economical."
Abdullah had said Malaysia would consider sending troops once Iraqis were back in charge of the country — but only if they were part of a U.N.-mandated peacekeeping force.
On Thursday, Abdullah said Malaysia was likely only to send a medical team to Iraq, "when the situation is a little more stable." He did not give details about the possible size of the team, where it would be sent or for how long.
"In all probability that is the best role," Abdullah said.
The interview came the day before Abdullah leaves Malaysia on his first official trip to Washington as leader, for talks Monday with President Bush. The trip includes stops in London and Paris for meetings with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac.
Malaysian officials say Abdullah, who is the current chairman of both the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Summit (search) and the Non-Aligned Movement of 116 mostly developing countries, will raise with Bush the issues of the war on terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Malaysia opposed the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Abdullah recently said using military force against terrorism without addressing its root causes would only fuel more extremism.
But Malaysia is considered an ally in the fight against terrorism, having arrested scores of Islamic militant suspects, including some linked to Al Qaeda.
The White House invitation signals improving ties between the United States and Malaysia since Abdullah took over in October following the retirement of longtime Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (search), whose blunt criticism of U.S. policies and remarks about Jews sometimes caused offense in Washington.
It also comes two months after the U.S. officials praised Abdullah's government for arresting the alleged middleman in the nuclear proliferation network of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
The middleman, Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, arranged a deal with business contacts in Malaysia — including Abdullah's son — to make parts for Libya's secret nuclear weapons program. The Malaysian company involved was cleared of any wrongdoing by police, who concluded it did not know that the parts it made for Tahir were to be used in uranium-enriching centrifuges.
In the interview, Abdullah said he wouldn't discuss whether the government would grant U.S. investigators access to interrogate Tahir, who is being held without trial under a tough national security law. He said he wasn't aware of such a request from U.S. officials as yet.
Abdullah said that Malaysian officials would cooperate with international efforts to stop proliferation, and had been "very transparent" in their dealings with the International Atomic Energy Agency (search).
"We will make sure that such things do not happen here again," Abdullah said, without giving details about whether Malaysia has tightened rules on the production or export of industrial products that might have more than one use, including in nuclear industries.