Allawi and US Secretary of State Colin Powell met in Saudi Arabia on Thursday and embraced a Saudi proposal for Muslim nations other than Iraq's immediate neighbours to contribute troops to help secure the country in the face of fierce opposition. 

"This is a global war. These are forces of evil who are acting against us," Allawi told reporters after he and Powell met for about an hour. "I call upon the leaders of the Islamic countries and the Arab countries to close ranks."
 
A deployment by Muslim nations would be a public-relations coup for Washington, which has seen its occupation force in Iraq reduced by the withdrawal of the Philippines, Spain, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras.

Riyadh's position

Powell also discussed the issue with top Saudi officials on Wednesday.
 
Adal al-Jubair, a top Saudi government foreign-policy adviser, said the kingdom wants "to help the Iraqi people reclaim their sovereignty as quickly as possible, because there is a tremendous desire in the Arab and Muslim worlds to help Iraq and because instability in Iraq has a negative impact on Saudi Arabia".

Powell (L) welcomed the idea of
using Arab or Muslim troops

He spoke to reporters after Powell's meeting with King Fahd, Crown Prince Abd Allah and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.
 
A major Saudi concern in recent weeks has been the infiltration of fighters from Iraq.
 
Saudi officials, speaking before the Powell meeting, said that discussions about a proposed security force were at a preliminary stage. They refused to provide details.

Saudi officials said the kingdom is also normalising relations with Iraq for the first time since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Possible contributors

Baghdad opposes deployment of foreign troops from neighbouring countries, fearing these nations will fuel divisions within the country by providing support to Iraq's mosaic of ethnic and sectarian communities.

Some of the countries mentioned as possible participants in a security force - Malaysia, Algeria, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Morocco - are outside the region.

In Islamabad, a senior Pakistani official said that Pakistani Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain discussed the possibility of creating such a force during a visit to Saudi Arabia last week. 

It was not clear under what auspices such a force would work, but a Pakistani official said it was likely to come under the umbrella of the United Nations.

Manila withdrew its troops from
Iraq to save the life of a captive

A senior Pakistani diplomat was named earlier this month as
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy to Iraq, though Pakistan has to date pledged no troops.
 
The US-led force in Iraq numbers 160,000; all but 20,000 are Americans.
 
US and Saudi officials declined to describe the proposed Muslim force as a supplement to the US-led force. They said that if the Muslim force develops, occupation troop numbers could be scaled down when security conditions improve.

It was not clear whether a Security Council resolution would be required to authorise a Muslim force.

Indonesia would only contribute troops "within and under a UN
framework", said Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa.

When asked if Morocco was considering sending troops to Iraq, an official with the Foreign Ministry said, on condition of anonymity, that no decision had been made and none was expected soon because government leaders were on vacation during August.

Arab League stance
 
The Arab League has been reluctant to confer legitimacy on the interim Iraq government because of the continuing US troop deployment.

An official with the 22-nation Arab League, based in Cairo, said on Thursday
it was too early to comment on the Saudi initiative because the league had not yet been informed of it.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity. In the past, the league has said any decision to deploy troops rests with each sovereign state.

No Arab country is now part of the occupation and US efforts to lure new members have not borne fruit.

Instead, the occupation's ranks have shrunk from 36 to 31 in recent weeks. Many groups in Iraq have captured foreigners to force its members to withdraw from the country.