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Gulf states decline military backing to U.S. allies in Iraq

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Tuesday, May 4, 2004

ABU DHABI The Gulf Cooperation Council has nixed the prospect of sending its regional military force to Iraq.

GCC officials said the six-member alliance agreed that Peninsula Shield would not be deployed in Iraq to help the U.S.-led coalition stabilize that country. The officials said the GCC would maintain its policy of keeping Peninsula Shield for protection of member states.

"There is no intention to send Peninsula Shield to Iraq," GCC secretary-general Abdul Rahman Al Attiyah told a news conference in Kuwait on Monday. "However, we would welcome any United Nations decision to send an international force to Iraq to ensure security."

Officials said the United States raised the subject of the use of Peninsula Shield as part of the deployment of an Arab military force to help in the stabilization of Iraq. The Arab League has also rejected such a request, Middle East Newsline reported.



Peninsula Shield, based in Khafr Al Baaten in northern Saudi Arabia, has increased from 5,000 to 9,000 soldiers over the last year. The force was deployed in Kuwait from February to May 2003 to protect Kuwait from Iraqi attack.

Officials said the GCC, established in 1981, has been alarmed by the increase in Islamic insurgency attacks in Iraq and the prospect that this could spread south to Gulf Arab states. They said GCC leaders have sought to focus on increasing domestic and regional security.

On Tuesday, GCC interior ministers convened in Kuwait to sign a regional counter-insurgency agreement. Officials said the agreement would upgrade regional security cooperation, including increased intelligence exchange, extradition of suspects and joint investigations.

"This is the most important agreement to be signed since the foundation of the GCC," Al Attiyah said. "The agreement deals with coordination and cooperation in combating terrorism. It will open the way for exchange of information in various security fields and will be followed later by other steps."

GCC states have been alarmed by the weekend Al Qaida strike on a Saudi petrochemical and refinery facility in Yanbu. Saudi Arabia's neighbor, Kuwait, has already ordered an increase in security measures around all of the sheikdom's oil facilities and deployed additional forces along the northern border with Iraq. Officials said GCC leaders plan to meet on May 16 in Saudi Arabia to discuss the Islamic insurgency threat, particularly the latest Al Qaida strike in Yanbu.

On Monday, U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Oberwetter met the American community in Yanbu and urged them to return home. Those attending the meeting quoted Oberwetter as saying that the United States cannot protect its nationals in the Saudi kingdom.

"It is time for us to pack our bags and go home," Oberwetter was quoted as saying. "We cannot protect you here."


Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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