Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Jiddah Thursday for talks with Iraq's prime minister, Ayad Allawi. He also discussed it with top Saudi officials on Wednesday.
"The leaders of this region must unify and must stand as one group against those gangs, against those terrorists and those criminals who are threatening and causing a great deal of harm to the Arab world and to (the) Islamic world," Allawi said as he met with Powell.
Adel al-Jubeir, a top Saudi government foreign policy adviser, said the kingdom wants "to help the Iraqi people reclaim their sovereignty as quickly as possible, because there is a tremendous desire in the Arab and Muslim worlds to help Iraq and because instability in Iraq has a negative impact on Saudi Arabia."
He spoke to reporters after Powell's meeting with King Fahd, Crown Prince Abdullah and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.
A major Saudi concern in recent weeks has been the infiltration of militants from Iraq.
Allawi acknowledged a pan-Arab military force might be subject to the same sort of attacks as the present coalition.
"We don't have any assurance. This is a global war. These are forces of evil who are acting against us. We are going to suffer casualties. We are suffering casualties. We are going to win. We have to win. There is no other route," he said.
Saud told reporters before the Powell meeting that discussions about a proposed security force were at a preliminary stage. He refused to provide details.
"We're taking this initiative because we want to help the Iraqi people reclaim their sovereignty as quickly as possible, because there is a tremendous desire in the Arab and Muslim worlds to help Iraq and because instability in Iraq has a negative impact on Saudi Arabia," said Adel al-Jubeir, a top Saudi government foreign policy adviser.
Said Allawi, "It's not only a fight for Iraq, it's a global fight, really, against terrorists and the participation in the multinational force is a commitment of the nation to fight evil, wherever this evil prevails."
The Saudi proposal includes conditions with respect to chain of command arrangements, what the troops would be doing, and whether they would be replacing existing coalition troops in Iraq.
"We do welcome the Saudi initiative and we'll be examining it very, very closely," Powell said.
Powell said the time may be ripe for a more active role by Arab and Muslim countries based on the handover of sovereignty to Allawi, along with the approval of a U.N. Security Council resolution that gives legitimacy to his interim government.
"They now have a sovereign government that is up and running," Powell said. "Based on that, there will be more intensive discussions on the basis of the Saudi initiative to see if more countries are willing to provide support."
Later, Powell flew to Kuwait, where he told reporters that the Saudis are trying to shape their proposal in a way that garners maximum support from Arab and Muslim populations. Consistent with the goal, he said Allawi has sent letters to leaders from these countries inviting them to dispatch forces to Iraq.
Among the unanswered questions, Powell said, was whether a Muslim security force would complement the existing U.S.-led coalition or would be a one-for-one substitution.
Saudi officials said the kingdom is normalizing relations with Iraq for the first time since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
President Bush, in a telephone call Wednesday to Abdullah from his Texas ranch, thanked the crown prince for meeting with Powell. "The two of them discussed the situation in Iraq and Saudi efforts to fight terror on its own soil," said a White House spokesman, Trent Duffy.
Iraqi opposes deployment of foreign troops from neighboring countries. Some of the countries mentioned as possible participants in a security force — Malaysia, Algeria, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Morocco — are from far outside the region.
In Islamabad, a senior Pakistani official told The Associated Press on Thursday that Pakistani Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain discussed the possibility of creating such a force during a visit to Saudi Arabia last week.
When asked if Morocco was considering sending troops to Iraq, an official with the Foreign Ministry said on condition of anonymity that no decision had been made and none was expected soon because government leaders were on vacation through August. Several weeks ago, another official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, had denied a report that Morocco was considering sending troops.
An official with the 22-nation Arab League, based in Cairo, said Thursday it was too early to comment on the Saudi initiative because the league hadn't yet been informed of it. The official spoke on condition of anonymity. In the past, the league has said any decision to deploy troops rests with each sovereign state.
Indonesia would only contribute troops "within and under a U.N. framework," said Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa.
The U.S.-led coalition force in Iraq numbers 160,000; all but 20,000 are Americans.
U.S. and Saudi officials declined to describe the proposed Muslim force as a supplement to the coalition. They said that if the Muslim force develops, coalition troop numbers could be drawn down as security conditions improved.
It was not clear whether a Security Council resolution would be required to authorize a Muslim force.
The Arab League has been reluctant to confer legitimacy on the interim Iraq government because of the continuing U.S. troop deployment.
League spokesman Hossam Zaki said Wednesday the organization's general stand was that any request for troops "should come from a legitimate Iraqi government, the force should not be part of the occupation of Iraq and should be authorized by a U.N. Security Council resolution and under U.N. leadership."
Zaki indicated the league could not stop individual member states from sending troops to Iraq. He said members had reacted in different ways to the interim government's call for troops.
No Arab country is now a coalition participant and the numbers of Muslims in the coalition is believed to be scant. Politically, it would be far easier for Muslim countries to commit themselves as a group rather than individually.
American and Iraqi efforts to lure new members into the coalition have not borne fruit. Indeed, Powell has exhorted coalition members to remain steadfast in their troop commitments to Iraq.
The coalition membership has shrunk from 36 to 31 in recent weeks. Militants in Iraq kidnapped foreigners and committed other violent acts to force coalition members to abandon Iraq.