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Proposal for Arab Security Force Draws Mixed Response in Iraq - 2004-07-30

Iraqis have mixed feelings about Saudi Arabia's proposal for a security force from Arab and Muslim countries to help stabilize Iraq. The plan is being discussed as Secretary of State Colin Powell meets with top Iraqi leaders on a surprise visit to Baghdad.

The idea came from Saudi Arabia and has been welcomed by Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who urged Arab and Muslim countries to contribute to the proposed security force. Mr. Allawi said the insurgency in Iraq threatens the entire region. He spoke Thursday on a visit to Jeddah after meeting with Saudi officials and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr. Powell flew into Baghdad Friday for an unannounced visit to meet with high-level Iraqi officials, including the interim president and deputy prime minister, as well as with the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Among other things, they discussed the Saudi proposal for a Muslim security force.

The Saudi plan specifies that none of the troops should come from countries neighboring Iraq, out of fear that it could lead to political conflict. Other details are still being worked out and it is not clear which countries might agree to participate.

Some Iraqis worry that an Arab and Muslim security force might exacerbate some of Iraq's problems rather than help solve them. The owner of a men's clothing store, Mohammed Kamel, says he is concerned about sparking sectarian conflict.

He said that relations between Sunni and Shia Muslims are already bad enough. He said if outside Islamic forces come to Iraq, they could make the problem worse.

But other people welcome the idea. Standing in his market stall selling nuts and sweets, Sien Ali Ahmed says he just wants to feel safe again.

He said Islamic forces, Arabic forces or troops from any other state, it does not matter. "We need more security here in Iraq. We don't care where it comes from," he added.

Mr. Ahmed suggests, however, that it might be a good idea to have the foreign Arab and Muslim troops patrolling Iraq's borders, rather than trying to impose order in the cities. He thinks Iraqis will be more willing to accept that. Several other Baghdad residents made the same distinction, including 31-year-old shopkeeper Amir Zouqi.

He said that he is sure the Iraqi police and army will be able to control the cities, but maybe the other Arab and Muslim troops could help them by patrolling the borders.

Mr. Zouqi thinks that too strong a presence by proposed security forces would still be seen as an occupation by foreign troops, even if they are Arab and Muslim.

He noted that as an Iraqi, he will not accept any outsider trying to punish him or tell him what is right and wrong.

If an Arab and Muslim security force does deploy to Iraq, it is not clear what its role will be. But it is likely to meet hostility from insurgents no matter what. Scores of foreign contractors in Iraq have been abducted in recent weeks and threatened with death. The abductors often demand the withdrawal of foreign troops or companies and they have targeted Arabs and Muslims as well as Westerners and Asians.

One Islamic group published a statement on its website Thursday threatening to attack any Arab or Muslim troops that deploy in Iraq.