French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told the UN General Assembly on Thursday: "As everyone knows, France did not approve of the conditions in which the conflict was unleashed. Neither today nor tomorrow will it commit itself militarily in Iraq."

 

He added: "In Iraq, violence is exploding. Only when the Iraqis themselves take control of their future ... will the country be able to escape the chaos which could destabilise the entire region."

 

The United States and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have both called for troops to be sent to Iraq, in particular for a dedicated force to protect UN personnel helping to prepare for elections by the end of January 2005.

 

But France, one of the harshest critics of the war that brought down Saddam Hussein, has repeatedly ruled out any military participation in Iraq.

 

None the less, France "reaffirms its willingness, with its European partners, to assist the Iraqi people in rebuilding their country and restoring their institutions", Barnier said. 

 

Pakistan says 'No'

 

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday also ruled out sending troops to help restore stability in Iraq, rebuffing pleas from the Iraqi interim government and the United States.

 

Musharraf does not want Pakistan
to be seen as an occupier of Iraq

"As far as Pakistan is concerned, our domestic environment is not conducive. It continues to be not conducive. We cannot be seen as an extension of the present forces there," Musharraf said at the United Nations.

 

Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said on Tuesday he had pressed Musharraf to contribute troops to the US-led forces in control of Iraq.

 

The US and the UN also encouraged Pakistan to contribute to a force to protect UN staff in Iraq, diplomats said.

 

But Musharraf said Pakistani troops did not want to be considered occupation forces, "so our going there now will be totally counter-productive".

 

He noted that no Muslim country had been prepared to contribute troops to the US-led force.

 

Annan's fears

 

France backed the UN chief's view
that the Iraq invasion was illegal

In an interview with BBC on Wednesday, Annan also expressed fears that holding credible elections in Iraq might not be possible as planned in January 2005, in view of the escalating violence.

 

"I am one of those who believe that there should have been a second resolution from the UN Security Council to green-light the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime," he said.

 

"I have indicated that it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, and from the charter point of view it was illegal," he added.

 

France expressed support for Annan's position, but the US and UK governments strongly objected to the UN chief's remarks.