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Middle East: OIC Chief Calls For U.S. To Quit Iraq, Israel To Leave Palestinian Territories

Putrajaya, Malaysia; 13 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A gathering of officials from Muslim countries yesterday in Putrajaya, Malaysia, was dominated by calls for U.S.-led coalition forces to leave Iraq and for Israeli troops to get out of the Palestinian territories.

Syria also won support during yesterday's meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). That support comes after Israel launched an air strike near Damascus one week ago.

OIC Secretary-General Abdelouahed Belkeziz issued the first call for foreign military forces to get out of Iraq during his opening speech yesterday. "Foremost of these [demands of ours] is the eviction of foreign forces from Iraq, allowing the United Nations to administer Iraqi affairs," he said.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Gholamali Khoshroo told reporters yesterday that a consensus is emerging within the OIC in support of calls for foreign forces to leave Iraq. But clearly, that view is not unanimous.

Turkey has offered to send troops into Iraq in order to help the U.S.-led coalition there. And Turkey's delegation at the OIC defended its offer. Tahsin Burcuoglu, the top Turkish official at the gathering, said Turkish troops would not be deployed into northern Iraq where much of the predominantly ethnic Kurdish population is suspicious of Turkish motives.

The United States also still has to persuade the Iraqi Governing Council to accept the deployment of troops from neighboring Turkey. The Iraqi council's foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, also attended the meeting in Malaysia. Some analysts say his presence at the meeting could highlight divisions within the OIC over Iraq.

Reports say Pakistan's President Pervez Musharrf plans later this week to call for the OIC to be restructured to make it more vibrant and more moderate. According to Pakistani officials, Musharraf will call for "enlightened moderation and closer cooperation among Muslim states to combat Islamic extremism and terrorism."

Tariq Osman Hyder, a senior official from Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, said the big issue at the OIC should be how to revitalize the organization so that it speaks for the Muslim world, protects the interests of Muslims, and manages relations with the Western world. Hyder said the key issue on Iraq is to find unity within the OIC that helps Iraq in reconstruction and the restoration of public order.

But not all delegates at today's meeting were calling for moderation. The head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's political office, Farouq al-Kaddoumi, told Malaysia's state-run Bernama news agency yesterday that "armed struggle" is the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Al-Kaddoumi is calling upon all 57 member countries of the OIC to unite behind the Palestinians at a summit later this week (16-17 October) that is expected to be the largest gathering of Muslim heads of state since after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

OIC Secretary-General Beleziz blamed the deteriorating situation in the Middle East on the Israeli government. "In Palestine, the situation continues to worsen day after day in the face of the Israeli government's obduracy on fulfilling the obligations demanded by it of the road map," he said.

A draft resolution from the OIC that was released yesterday also supports Syria's right to defend itself following last week's Israeli air strikes near Damascus. Israel claims it was targeting a training base used by militants in the Islamic Jihad movement. That group has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 19 people in Israeli on 4 October. Syria says the Israeli attack struck a civilian target.