A senior U.S. military commander is appealing to Muslim countries to send troops to Iraq to ease the image of an American occupation.
General John Abizaid says there are enough U.S. soldiers in Iraq to deal with the current volatile security situation.
But speaking to Pentagon reporters from Qatar, the commander of the U.S. military's Central Command, admits the loss of Spanish and other international forces from the coalition has left what he terms "a hole."
General Abizaid says he does not favor increasing the size of the American contingent to fill the gap. Instead, he calls for more troops from predominantly Muslim countries, not just to meet immediate security needs but also to aid in stabilizing the country after the planned June 30 transfer of sovereignty to a new Iraqi government.
"I do favor the inclusion of more international troops, especially more Muslim troops. For example, Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia, they all have very capable and very professional forces that could be added to the stability equation... I believe, and I think Iraqis will second me on this, this needs to be less of an American occupation and more of an international military activity that includes Iraqis, international forces and Americans," he said.
General Abizaid says that while he is comfortable with the current level of about 138,000 U.S. troops in the country, he would not hesitate to ask for more if conditions deteriorate.
Meanwhile, another senior military official, Major General John Sattler, also speaking from Qatar, has told Pentagon reporters more armored vehicles are being sent to Iraq to protect U.S. forces from insurgent attacks.
General Sattler, the operations director for the Central Command, says 37 more heavy tanks have recently arrived in Iraq with five more on the way.
In addition he says 2,000 more armored Humvee transports are being sent to Iraq. There are already 2,500 such vehicles in the country with U.S. forces.