"I advise all countries that want to help Iraq not to send forces here. If such forces come to Iraq, they will be seen as collaborators of the occupation", Iraqi Shiite leader Sayed Moqtada al Sadr declared in a sermon in Kufa on July 30. He was responding to a US proposal to supplement the US-led occupation force with troops from predominantly Muslim countries.
The proposal was announced on July 28 after talks between the government of Saudi Arabia and US Secretary of State Colin Powell. State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher later told journalists in Washington that US officials had been discussing the idea with Saudi officials for several weeks.
A senior US official accompanying Powell said the idea of an "Islamic peacekeeping force" was not to replace the current US-led occupation force, but to have a "supplemental" force.
According to a July 28 CNN report, "Arab sources say" countries contacted by Saudi officials to contribute troops to the "Islamic peacekeeping force" included Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Algeria and Morocco — "many of which have been sent letters by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi asking for troops, but which have balked at US requests in the past".
On July 30, Malaysian foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar told Associated Press: "No, we will not sent our troops [to Iraq]." The next day, Indonesian foreign ministry spokesperson Marty Natalegawa told reporters: "We will consider sending the troops only under the United Nations and as part of the UN peacekeeping force. We will not send troops under the multinational alliance."
On August 1, Arab League secretary general Amr Mussa said in Cairo that Arab countries did not want to send troops to Iraq as long as the country was occupied by US troops.
On August 2, Pakistani Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain told reporters: "I have said once, twice, more than a hundred times that the government has no intention of sending troops to Iraq."
While the UN Security Council, in a series of resolutions adopted since May last year, has given its approval to the occupation of Iraq, it has — at Washington's insistence — placed all foreign occupation troops under US command.
Washington's inability to get any Muslim countries to contribute troops to the occupation of Iraq has undermined its claims that the occupation has broad international support.
Among the growing signs of strain on the US occupation is the increased reliance of the US military on National Guard soldiers and reservists to fill lengthy tours of duty in Iraq. About 40% of the 140,000 US troops in Iraq are National Guard and reserve troops summoned from civilian life into active duty.
Reporting on this phenomenon, the July 18 New York Times noted: "With a shrinking roll of full-time soldiers and no draft to replenish it, the nation's armed forces have had to reach deeper into the reserves and the National Guard, where men in their 50s typically train and serve alongside soldiers in their teens."
One consequence of this is that the percentage of soldiers aged 50 and over who have died in Iraq is 10 times higher than those in the same age bracket who died in the US war in Vietnam. Seventy per cent of the US soldiers aged 50 and over who have died in Iraq have done so as a result of heart attacks and other non-combat-related health problems.
On July 21, Reuters reported that the US Army is "asking some National Guard troops serving in Iraq to volunteer to stay on active duty beyond a statutory two-year limit for such service".
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a Pentagon press briefing that "we don't plan at the moment" to extend such reserve troops involuntarily beyond the two-year limit, but added "one should never say never".
From Green Left Weekly, August 11, 2004.
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