US in Iraq quagmire: Muslims to the rescue
NEW YORK - As American military casualties in Iraq move dangerously close to the 1,000 mark, the US is seeking ways of cutting down its troops or gradually withdrawing them from the violence-ridden country.

The rightwing neo-conservatives, who turned a blind eye to the stereotyping of most Muslims as potential terrorists, are now supporting a move for the creation of an international Islamic military force to be despatched to Iraq.

Ironically, despite all the Muslim-bashing following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the US is desperately seeking the assistance of Islamic nations to get the American military out of the quagmire in Iraq.

The harassment of Muslims at US airports, the use of the USA Patriot Act to deprive them of basic civil rights, and the denial of visas even to students from Muslim countries -- all in the name of fighting terrorism -- have already created a wave of strongly anti-Bush sentiments among American Muslims in a presidential election year.

A set of new guidelines to track down terrorists has compelled most foreign airlines to provide meticulous details of each passenger's profile -- including how the ticket was paid for (was it by cash or by credit card?). Only potential terrorists apparently pay for their airline tickets with cash.

The guidelines had a more intriguing and sinister proviso: every airline has to notify the US if and when a passenger orders a Muslim meal on board a flight.

A survey done in the state of Michigan -- home for one of the largest concentrations of Arab-Americans -- says that 42 percent of Muslim Arabs feel their religion is not respected by mainstream US society.

Conducted by a team from the University of Michigan, the survey also revealed that 15 percent of Arab Americans had experienced harassment or intimidation after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US.

"After 9/11, it was very clear that most Americans knew very little about Arab Americans," says Wayne Baker, the professor who led the Michigan study group. The study also found that 50 percent of respondents believe that American news coverage is biased against Muslims.

Perhaps the only good news coming out of the survey was that 33 percent of respondents said that a non-Arab had offered a helping hand or made a positive comment since the September 11 attacks. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is of the view that unfair law enforcement tactics are byproducts of the Bush administration's misguided war on terrorism.

Despite these prejudices and biases, the administration has now turned to Islamic nations for a new military force for Iraq. The initiative to create the new force has come from Saudi Arabia, one of America's closest allies in the Middle East. But it may turn out to be a non-starter judging by the kidnappings of foreign nationals and the killings of coalition soldiers by insurgents in Iraq.

These kidnappings and killings have also threatened to undermine the creation of a new multinational security force aimed at protecting UN staffers and humanitarian workers who are planning to return to Iraq.

The Iraqi insurgents want all foreign forces -- whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims -- out of the country. They want an end to the military occupation of Iraq.

The United States has so far lobbied several Muslim countries -- including Egypt, Algeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco, Yemen and Jordan -- seeking troops for the proposed new protection force. But it has apparently hit a brick wall.

When UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week announced the appointment of Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, Ashraf Qazi, as the new UN Special Representative for Iraq, there was speculation that the government in Islamabad would reciprocate the gesture by providing troops to protect UN workers.

Asked if this was true, Annan told reporters last week that a request did go out to "quite a few countries to offer troops." Pakistan was one of them, he admitted. "But there was no quid pro quo or any expectation that, because I have appointed a Pakistani, they would give me troops," he said.

"We will not be the first country or the only country to provide troops for the protection force," says Mansoor Suhail, press counsellor to the Pakistan Mission to the United Nations.

Suhail said the Pakistan government has made it very clear that it would provide troops only on three conditions: "Firstly, the request has to come from the interim Iraqi government. Secondly, that request has to be endorsed by the United Nations, and thirdly, we will go in to Iraq only as part of a collective Islamic international force -- not as a single military force."

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who is on a tour of Middle Eastern countries, has already visited Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, lobbying for troops.

But his efforts have been stymied by the increasing number of kidnappings -- including nationals of Egypt, Pakistan, India, Kenya and Turkey.

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