For the first time, Pakistan says it will consider a request from the United States to send some of its troops to Iraq. Pakistan insists a deployment would have to be linked to a United Nations presence in Iraq.

Pakistan says the request made recently by U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell is not for peacekeepers, but for guards to protect a future U.N. mission in Iraq.

U.N. special representative to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi is studying the possibility of a mission there in the wake of last August's bombing of a U.N. office in Baghdad. He is slated to report to the Security Council soon.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan says, once the U.N. plans are concrete, Pakistan will determine whether to contribute forces and, if so, how many soldiers to send.

"The United Nations has to decide ? their requirements, and then you will have an idea of the kind of force that you need to protect the U.N. mission," said Mr. Khan.

He adds that any Pakistani contingent would likely be small in number.

Last year, Pakistan said it had no immediate plans to send forces to Iraq, and would do so only if requested by the Iraqis themselves.

The U.S.-led war in Iraq is extremely controversial within Pakistan. The prospect of sending Pakistani forces there has previously drawn strong criticism, particularly from conservative religious elements.