India has turned down a U.S. request to send troops to Iraq to join a stabilization force. The Indian government failed to build a domestic consensus on the issue.
Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said Indian troops cannot be deployed in Iraq without an explicit United Nations mandate.
The decision came after a two-hour meeting of the country's top security committee, headed by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
The announcement ends weeks of indecision by New Delhi. The government has been debating the issue since last month, when Washington asked India to contribute a division of about 17,000 soldiers to control a sector in northern Iraq.
Some officials and foreign policy experts supported a deployment, saying it would help strengthen New Delhi's warming ties with the United States.
But a wide range of political parties staunchly opposed the move, including opposition parties and groups within India's Hindu nationalist-led governing coalition. Opponents say Indian troops should not be part of a U.S.-led occupation force, or lend support to a war that New Delhi had strongly opposed.
India also got a negative reaction from Iraq's neighbors on the possible presence of Indian troops. New Delhi had close relations with the ousted regime in Iraq, and has good ties with several countries in the region.
However, Foreign Minister Sinha said New Delhi wants to lend a hand in rebuilding Iraq.
U.S. diplomats in New Delhi say India's decision not to send troops to Iraq will not hurt relations between the two countries.
India has the world's fourth largest military, and it has taken part in several U.N. peacekeeping operations in the past.