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Saudis Take Lead on Muslim Forces for Iraq


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JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia - With American support, Saudi Arabia is taking the lead in trying to form a Muslim security force to help Iraq overcome its 15-month-old insurgency, U.S. and Saudi officials said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the issue with top Saudi officials after a stop in Egypt and had it on his agenda for Thursday's talks with Iraq's prime minister, Ayad Allawi, in Jiddah.

Word of the Saudis' effort came on the same day as a a suicide car bomb northeast of Baghdad killed 68 Iraqis and wounded 56 others. It was the insurgents' deadliest strike since Allawi took office as head of the interim government a month ago.

"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.

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.

Earlier, Saud told reporters that discussions about a proposed security force were at a preliminary stage. He refused to provide details.

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