Islamic Nations Call for U.S. Out of Iraq
By PATRICK McDOWELL, Associated Press Writer
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia - The world's Islamic nations opened their biggest meeting in three years Saturday with a call for the eviction of U.S. troops from Iraq and the rapid restoration of its sovereignty.
The gathering of the 57 countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world's biggest Muslim political group, was split until recently over whether the Iraqi Governing Council should assume the seat held by Saddam Hussein's ousted government. But delegates said Saturday a resolution would be adopted welcoming the council.
Divisions over Iraq threatened to prevent Islamic leaders from finding a unified voice to address a widespread feeling that the war against terrorism has turned into a war against Muslims.
The group's summit is its first regular meeting since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks brought terrorism to the center of world politics.
Senior officials opened discussions with a prayer Saturday in Malaysia's new administrative capital, Putrajaya. They will lay out positions for their foreign ministers and national leaders to consider later in the week, ranging from Israel's airstrike on Syria to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
But Iraq took center stage.
Musa Braiza, head of the Jordanian delegation, said a resolution would acknowledge that positive change was under way in Iraq but would emphasize the full restoration of Iraqi sovereignty.
Abdelouahed Belkaziz, the OIC's secretary general, said Islamic nations "are still under the strain of extremely difficult challenges and unprecedented threats to our countries' independence, sovereignty, security and courses."
Top priority should go to "the eviction of foreign forces from Iraq, allowing the United Nations to administer Iraqi affairs (as a) prelude to restoration of Iraq's independence, and to the rebuilding of what has been destroyed over the past 20 years, all in accordance with a clear and short timetable," he said.
Host Malaysia, a moderate, prosperous Southeast Asian country led by blunt-spoken Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, had attempted to keep the U.S.-picked Iraqi council from taking the seat formerly held by Saddam's government, viewing the council as puppets.
But Arab nations — the real power in the Islamic world, many of which allowed American troops to attack Iraq from their soil — prevailed upon Malaysia to accept the council, which has already been admitted to the Arab League.
Malaysia has said Muslim states should not heed U.S. calls to send peacekeepers to Iraq unless the United Nations takes control of such operations. Washington wants troops from other countries to help relieve the burden on its 130,000 troops there.
Turkey has given the green light to send troops, raising objections among the Iraqi Governing Council, which fears the troops would interfere in Iraq's internal affairs and that Turkey's conflict with its Kurdish minority could spill over to engulf Kurds in northern Iraq.
"We don't like to have any peacekeeping troops from neighboring countries, because it might cause problems inside Iraq," said Riyadh al-Fadhli, a senior Iraqi Foreign Ministry official.
Tahsin Burcuoglu, head of Turkey's delegation, said his country was assuming its neighborly responsibility and suggested that countries that wait for U.N. cover that may never materialize were satisfied with doing nothing.
"Everybody among the Islamic countries has to make a choice," Burcuoglu said. "If there is no such resolution, then what should be the position of Islamic countries — to stay out and wait for something else and to just observe the tragedy going on?"
But Iran's deputy foreign minister, Gholamali Khoshroo, said that Muslim countries were unanimous in feeling that the United States should leave Iraq and hand over power to Iraqis. Striking a common position on peacekeepers would not be on the summit agenda, he said.
Syria declared that it wants the conference to formally condemn Israel's recent airstrike against a training base for Palestinian militants on its soil. Damascus claims the base was closed years ago, while Israel insists it was being used recently by suicide bombers plotting attacks.
Syria has run into snags in the U.N. Security Council in persuading European countries to support a resolution condemning Israel, and the United States has threatened a veto.
"We are more hopeful than in any other sphere that the OIC will adopt the resolution supporting our position," said Bashar Jaafaari, chief of the Syrian delegation.
Malaysia's leader said Israel and the United States were trying to spark a Mideast war.
"Israel has been urging America to invade Syria, and Americans seemed to be reluctant, so in order to force the hand of America, Israel invades Syria," Mahathir said.
"Now, the Americans will have to support it. Otherwise, the candidates for the presidency in the United States will lose Jewish votes."
The OIC has been dismissed by critics as a toothless talk shop with few concrete achievements. Malaysian officials say their nation, as OIC chair for the next three years, will strive to transform the organization into an effective advocate.
How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?
The WorldPeace Banner
To the WorldPeace Peace Page