- The Washington Times - Monday, October 18, 2004

Iraqi government officials and commanders of the U.S.-led military coalition killed a proposal by Saudi Arabia for a Muslim peacekeeping force in Iraq, the White House said yesterday, citing concerns over who would be in charge.

Responding to reports in two newspapers, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the government in Baghdad had “some real concerns” about having troops from a neighboring country inside Iraq.

“The multinational force commanders also had some concerns about forces operating outside the chain of command,” he said. Most of the multinational force commanders are Americans, as are the majority of forces.

Newsday and the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that President Bush rebuffed what the newspapers called a plan that would have helped the United Nations organize elections in Iraq.

Attributing the account to unidentified Saudi and Iraqi officials, Newsday said Crown Prince Abdullah and other Saudi leaders had lobbied Mr. Bush to approve the plan for a force of several hundred troops from Arab and Muslim countries to protect U.N. officials in Iraq.

The prince discussed the idea with Mr. Bush in a 10-minute telephone conversation on July 18 after meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Newsday said.

The force would have been controlled by the United Nations instead of U.S. commanders. The initiative died last month despite acceptance by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, because the Muslim and Arab countries refused to work under U.S. command, Newsday said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that he did not know whether there was ever a “concrete proposal” for a Muslim force to protect U.N. officials. He said the Saudis floated the idea with the U.S., Iraqi and other governments.

“I think we said, ‘We’ll see what happens to it,’” Mr. Boucher said. “Certainly we are happy to discuss this with people, but I am not sure it ever got as far as saying that there was actually a group of troops ready to deploy under certain conditions or circumstances.

“It never really got off the ground,” he said.

Mr. Annan withdrew U.N. officials from Iraq after terrorists bombed the world body’s headquarters in Baghdad in August last year, killing 22 U.N. officials, including the temporary chief U.N. envoy in Iraq, diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Eventually, Mr. Annan set a ceiling of 35 international staffers for duty in Baghdad. In June, the Security Council authorized a separate U.N. protection force, and Mr. Annan said governments would be asked to contribute to it.

Postwar Iraqi officials long have been cool to the idea of Muslim troops from neighboring countries but are open to troops from Muslim countries in North Africa and probably would accept troops from Pakistan.

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