This Muslim force is not what Iraq needs

Such forces would help to conceal the obvious signs of occupation, the idea and the reality that today offends almost all Iraqis
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I find no takers among my British Muslim contacts for the latest wheeze coughed up by the Saudis to help restrain the bloody chaos in Iraq. The proposal - approved by Colin Powell - is to import troops from various Muslim countries to attenuate the spiralling violence. Iyad Allawi, the unelected Prime Minister of the interim Iraqi government, is taken with the idea.

I find no takers among my British Muslim contacts for the latest wheeze coughed up by the Saudis to help restrain the bloody chaos in Iraq. The proposal - approved by Colin Powell - is to import troops from various Muslim countries to attenuate the spiralling violence. Iyad Allawi, the unelected Prime Minister of the interim Iraqi government, is taken with the idea.

The people I spoke to are not, not at all. Among more than 50 people across Britain, of different backgrounds and views, including three who supported the war, not one Muslim gave any credence to this strategy. Powell, many said contemptuously, was a Republican "Uncle Tom" and Allawi a "CIA stooge", while the House of Saud was now fearful for its own future and having to make abject gestures to retain US support.

Three of the people have family connections to the Chalabi and Allawi clans. They say both men have been actively involved in questionable activities with American blessings. "How can we trust Allawi? He is more American than Iraqi," said one sad chap who says he likes him "as a man but not a leader of our country".

I agree with these doubters. This solution has no noble purpose. Consider the main objections. First: they want Muslims to die, instead of Americans and Britons, to pay for the mess the allies have made. They ignored world opinion, expert evidence, international institutions and through sheer arrogance imposed their will. In January 2003, Powell said his country was ready to "go it alone".

Though refusing to eat humble pie, Tony Blair and George Bush have to find a credible way to manage the defeat that has followed their victory. It isn't new, this use of "natives" as war fodder. In the Great War the thousands of Indian soldiers who fought in the trenches wrote coded letters home about how they - "black pepper" - were used in the most dangerous situations on the front line and "red pepper" was better looked after.

Second: such forces would help to conceal the obvious signs of occupation, the idea and reality that today offends almost all Iraqis and heats to boiling the desert blood of Arabs. Like dummy policemen, these Muslim forces can be used to dupe and control the population.

The third reason to be wary: once they have Muslim forces on the blasted streets of Basra and Baquba and Ramadi and Fallujah, media reports will die down. It will become just another basket case area. Horrendous events are barely reported now because it is only Iraqis who are the victims and because there is such strict censorship by the people in power, who do not want the maimed on our minds nor the body counts piled up.

Last week alone more than 250 Iraqis were killed. The International Coalition of Academics Against Occupation claims that 250 college professors have been assassinated since April 2003. A freelance journalist, Lee Gordon, returned from Iraq bringing with him an 11-year-old girl, Zeinab, who lost her right leg and her whole family in one of our raids, one of countless such victims. Our government does nothing for these amputee children. Thanks to Heather McCartney, Zeinab has a new leg, but only because a journalist made a fuss.

So no, under the present arrangements, this plan is wholly to be suspected and rejected.

There are people who still want to believe that the US and UK are forces of untold good, but most of the world knows better. Gandhi once said: "If I should allow the West in its boyishly confident rowdyism to utterly crush out other systems of life and ideals through political power and material influence, would I not be playing traitor to not only to my own people but to you Westerners too?"

Cynicism today seems a patriotic duty, the only weapon we have against the bombast, the spinning, pliant journalism and against the unrepentant, illegitimate war-makers now sunning themselves. But scepticism is not enough nor good enough. It does not exempt us from engaging with the turmoil and heartbreak that is Iraq today. Blair says nobody in Iraq wants Saddam Hussein back. Wrong. There is such immense disillusionment that there is, unbelievably, nostalgia for that dictator.

Millions of suffering Iraqis agree the coalition is doing more damage than good and should leave. They know the truth about the torture - of women and children too - by our side from which we are still shielded. (We cannot be tortured by the images of torture - that would be uncivilised). They see the clampdown on freedom of expression by Allawi and his Higher Media Commission, which wants to discipline al-Jazeera and others.

Anti-war people are in an ethical conundrum. I cannot deny there have been moments when I have felt victorious at witnessing another catastrophe, another setback, anything to show the axis of war that we were right. It may be human nature but it is not honourable. Such shallow triumphalism will not save or make the people of Iraq. So what is to be done?

Lakhdar Brahimi, the Algerian diplomat who is Kofi Annan's Iraq expert, has produced a programme for transition to a democratic government. The next step should be a national conference in Iraq. This has been delayed to ensure it is inclusive, even of groups not favoured by the US. There are signs that Americans are already interfering to make this impossibly hard.

Expect more of this as the interim government gives way to transitional government after elections between December 2004 and January 2005. The elected body will then draft a permanent constitution. In December 2005 there should be a legitimate, elected, constitutional government. Brahimi wants an international meeting to will on this process and, I hope, to assert that the resources of Iraq belong to that country alone and that tricksy foreign politicians should lay off.

As a foundation, this is feasible and a good structure to build on. It could strengthen the battered UN, which has lost much respect partly because of its own ineptitude and partly because the big powers can so easily bypass the best promises of the organisation.

The UN has become indispensable to the coalition which has so catastrophically lost the peace and its reputation. Public opinion is shifting in the US too. Paranoia paralysed the thinking classes after 11 September. This is now thawing and perhaps there will not be a rush to war again soon whoever wins the election.

In an incisive new book, The World According to Washington, the Indian writer Pashwant Singh argues that for its own sake the US has to rethink its internationalism, which currently is nothing more than the right to do wrong with absolute impunity. He remembers "the principled stand taken by Americans of distinction at defining moments in history". If hope, trust and humility can come together maybe peace will get a chance.

My Muslim acquaintances agree Iraq now needs a monitored election, a concerted effort to make the country truly free and the UN to take charge until the place is secure again, which will not be for a good many years. As Leila, a student at a London University said: "Under the UN, if it is really the UN, yes Muslims can go to Iraq and help. But not now, not under these liars who care nothing about Iraq and want to trick us again. We are not so stupid."

y.alihai-brown@independent.co.uk

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