Yemen today announced its willingness -- under certain conditions -- to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, joining Jordan as the only two Arab countries so far to offer soldiers to help stabilize the new Iraqi interim government.
The State Department today welcomed the two countries' support for the interim government and called on the international community to help fight terrorists and build democracy in Iraq.
However, Iraq's deputy foreign minister was quoted as saying the Baghdad government was likely to oppose the offer from Jordan, because of Iraq's declared opposition to accept troops from any of its immediate neighbors. It was unclear how Iraq would respond to the offer from Yemen, which does not border Iraq.
"Yemen would be willing to play any role that the Iraqi people and the United Nations want it to play," said Yemen's ambassador to the United States, Abdulwahab A. Hajjri. If the Iraqis want Yemen to contribute peacekeeping troops, "we can help," he said.
In a telephone interview, Hajjri said Yemen has created a special peacekeeping force with enhanced equipment and training assistance from the United States.
This force, he said, "is ready to do its duty." He said Yemen does not yet have a "confirmed official position" on the conditions for such a deployment. But he noted that "Yemen has always been a great advocate of a strong role for the United Nations with Iraq."
Earlier, the Associated Press reported from Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, that the Arab nation of 20 million people was willing to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq if the deployment had U.N. backing and was under the control of the world body. The agency quoted Foreign Ministry officials as saying the government was discussing plans to send forces to Iraq.
Yemen has about 66,000 people in its armed forces and spent about $885 million on the military last year.
On Thursday, King Abdullah of Jordan said his country was willing to send troops to Iraq if the new interim government there requested them. He previously had expressed reluctance to commit troops to the neighboring country, but indicated he had changed his mind because the region could not afford to see the Iraqi government fail.
However, Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Bayati told the BBC today that the Jordanian proposal was likely to be rejected. Bayati said Iraq would be unlikely to accept troops from countries on its border because of concerns that they have interests in Iraq which could complicate the security situation.
Bayati said Iraq's Prime Minister Ayad Allawi had written to Egypt, Bahrain and Oman requesting soldiers be sent to Iraq to help restore security, the BBC reported.
As for the U.S. position, Rhonda Shore, a spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said in an e-mailed statement that the department welcomes the Jordanian and Yemeni leaders' "support for the Iraqi interim government," including their "willingness to consider sending troops if asked."
"We reiterate our call, consistent with U.N. Security Council resolution 1546, for the international community to support the Iraqi government in its fight against terrorists and its efforts to build a prosperous, democratic nation," the statement said.
It also commended Jordan for hosting and helping to train Iraqi police and military officers and for holding several Iraq reconstruction conferences over the past six months.
"In addition, the Jordanian field military hospital in Fallujah treated almost 150,000 Iraqi civilians over the last year," the statement said.
Abdullah, in a BBC television interview, said he felt "somewhat optimistic that we have strong, courageous leaders in Iraq." But he added, "The challenges that face them on security are going to be their major problem. They're going to need everybody's help."
Asked if Jordan would be willing to commit troops to Iraq, Abdullah said: "Now that there's an Iraqi interim government and, we hope, a fully independent process very soon in Iraq, I presume if the Iraqis ask us for help directly, it will be very difficult for us to say no. Our message to the president and to the prime minister is, tell us what you want, tell us how we can help, and you have 110 percent support from us. If we don't stand with them, if they fail, then we will pay the price."
Abdullah stressed that it was up to the Iraqis to decide whether they wanted a Jordanian peacekeeping contingent, and he said the matter has not yet been discussed with the Iraqi government. He said he still feels that "we're not the right people" to send troops to Iraq. "But at the end of the day," he said, "if there's something that we can provide -- a service to the future of Iraqis -- then we will definitely study that proposal."
During a recent visit to Washington, Abdullah had publicly said Jordan was not in a position to send troops to Iraq because of past difficulties with its neighbor to the east.
The former Iraqi Governing Council, the U.S.-appointed body that preceded the interim government, had refused to have any troops from neighboring countries on its soil, the Reuters news agency reported.
Turkey, a Muslim country on Iraq's northern border, had indicated willingness to send troops to Iraq last year in response to a U.S. request, but withdrew the offer when the Governing Council expressed opposition, Reuters reported.