- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 9, 2004

LAHORE, Pakistan — President Pervez Musharraf has ruled out sending Pakistani peacekeeping troops to Iraq to help provide security for January elections, resisting both pressure from the Bush administration and a personal request from Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Gen. Musharraf’s rejection all but ends a U.S. effort to enlist an international Muslim force to protect U.N. officials, who are supposed to return to Iraq to run the elections.

“The most difficult decision which I made in my … days as prime minister was not sending Pakistani troops to Iraq despite extreme foreign pressure,” said Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who served as Pakistan’s interim prime minister from June 30 to Aug. 28.

Pakistani officials said that at one point, U.S. officials were seeking a Pakistani force of up to 50,000 troops.

“Pakistani troops were to replace U.S. troops so that their number could be cut to half. But I think not only Pakistani, but a multinational Muslim force should [be used to] replace half of the U.S. forces in Iraq,” Mr. Hussain said in a recent interview.

Saudi Arabia first floated the idea of a Muslim force in Iraq in July during a visit to the desert kingdom by Mr. Hussain.

The force would be assigned to protect U.N. workers, who fled Iraq after two attacks last year, including a suicide bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed top U.N. official Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 other staffers.

Iraq’s interim government immediately ruled out accepting troops from neighboring Muslim states, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey, and put its focus on Pakistan.

Gen. Musharraf further nixed the idea by saying that Pakistan would only participate if other Muslim nations, or perhaps rival India, also sent troops.

“The situation in Iraq is not suitable for sending troops to Iraq, but if India decides to send troops in this situation, then Pakistan cannot lag behind and let him take the fruits. Then we will send our troops, too,” Gen. Musharraf told Pakistani troops shortly before departing to attend the U.N. General Assembly session in New York last month.

In New York, Gen. Musharraf rejected a personal appeal from Mr. Allawi.

“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,” Gen. Musharraf said after meeting the Iraqi leader.

Gen. Musharraf also noted that no Muslim country had been prepared to contribute troops to the U.S.-led force.

At present, the United Nations has just 35 officials in Iraq, well below the force that would be needed to run an election.

This week, several U.N. employee associations, which represent more than 60,000 international U.N. workers, said in a letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan that it was still too dangerous to return to Iraq.

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