Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday, 29 July 2004

Saudi Arabia proposes a new exclusively Moslem force to help stabilise Iraq

The Saudi proposal for a Moslem multi-national force to help stabilise the situation in Iraq sounds hopeful, assuming that Arab and other other Moslem states are willing to commit forces to do this. It seems that the proposal has been cautiously welcomed by the United States and the Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has, for his part, called on the leaders of Arab countries to close ranks to help Iraq. The proposals have come during an arab conference in Jeddah.

From what I gather, the Saudis realise that the instability in Iraq is affecting their own internal security. It seems that it will not be neighbouring states that might provide troops (I suppose for fear that they might overstay their welcome and threaten Iraq's existence within its present borders) and some of those whose names I have heard mentioned include Morocco and Malaysia. However, these are not particularly wealthy countries so presumably someone would be required to fund the operation - I imagine this is where Saudi Arabia can play a role: it helped to finance the US presence in the area during the first Gulf War, as of course did Koweit.

On the other hand I heard a gentleman, whose name I did not catch unfortunately, being interviewed on the radio whilst I was in my car a little while ago. He was from the Arab League and indicated his strong view that this whole plan is a non-starter because ... well he gave various answers, but the two themes which ran through his pusillanimous and negative comments could basically be summarised thus:

- the situation is very dangerous in Iraq and no member country (of the Arab League) would wish to commit forices under such circumstance. Trying, with difficulty, to remain 'neutral' in my remarks, all that I can say is that of course it is dangerous, that is why Iraq (Moslem and Arab brethren) needs help in their time of need;

- no member country (of the Arab League) would agree to commit troops whilst US forces remain in Iraq. Again trying to remain measured in my remarks, surely the whole point is that if fellow Moslems can help out in Iraq then it will be safe for the US (and the UK and other countries) to remove their troops that much more quickly.

The real reason for the Arab League reluctance, of course, is their determination that the Coalition presence in Iraq shall never be a 'success', and if the price for that is that Iraqis will suffer, then too bad! Whether the Arab Union will adopt a more enlightened stance is to be hoped for, but not necessarily expected. The inter-country bickering which has often characterised relations within the Arab world is a powerful negative influence and of course many tyrants fear an Iraq which may become a prosperous stable democracy, so jeopardising their own sorry futures.

There is also, in my experience, considerable resentment in some Arab countries which have Presidential styles of government, and which are only in the most theoretical sense democratic, at the wealth of some of their Gulf fellow-Moslem states which are still run as absolute or semi-absolute monarchies, for example Saudi Arabia, Koweit, the UAE and Qatar. In earlier times, before the discovery of oil, the wealth and sophistication of the arab world was all located in countries such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq and they rather looked down their noses at the backward Gulf countries, the inhabitants of which they often regarded as illiterate peasants. There is a lot of internal arab politics going on in this present situation, quite apart from the other basic confict over Palestine and Israel.

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