A senior U.S. military commander is appealing to Muslim countries to send troops
to Iraq to ease the image of an American occupation.
General John Abizaid says there are enough U.S. soldiers in Iraq to deal
with the current volatile security situation.
But speaking to Pentagon reporters from Qatar, the commander of the U.S.
military's Central Command, admits the loss of Spanish and other international
forces from the coalition has left what he terms "a hole."
General Abizaid says he does not favor increasing the size of the American
contingent to fill the gap. Instead, he calls for more troops from predominantly
Muslim countries, not just to meet immediate security needs but also to aid
in stabilizing the country after the planned June 30 transfer of sovereignty
to a new Iraqi government.
"I do favor the inclusion of more international troops, especially more Muslim
troops. For example, Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia, they all have very capable
and very professional forces that could be added to the stability equation...
I believe, and I think Iraqis will second me on this, this needs to be less
of an American occupation and more of an international military activity that
includes Iraqis, international forces and Americans," he said.
General Abizaid says that while he is comfortable with the current level
of about 138,000 U.S. troops in the country, he would not hesitate to ask for
more if conditions deteriorate.
Meanwhile, another senior military official, Major General John Sattler,
also speaking from Qatar, has told Pentagon reporters more armored vehicles
are being sent to Iraq to protect U.S. forces from insurgent attacks.
General Sattler, the operations director for the Central Command, says 37
more heavy tanks have recently arrived in Iraq with five more on the way.
In addition he says 2,000 more armored Humvee transports are being sent to
Iraq. There are already 2,500 such vehicles in the country with U.S. forces.