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Islamic States Criticize US Mideast Policy, Urge Greater UN Role in Iraq - 2004-04-22


The world's largest grouping of Islamic states wants the United Nations to take a central role in Iraq. An emergency meeting the Organization of Islamic Conference also criticized U.S. policy on the Middle East.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told representatives of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference that the situation in the Palestinian territories and Iraq has become "extremely alarming." He said the conditions threaten the stability of the Middle East. Delegates at the OIC's emergency meeting criticized the U.S.-led forces in Iraq for inflicting heavy civilian casualties and destroying religious sites. They said both actions breach the Geneva Convention.

The United States says its troops try to minimize civilian casualties and avoid firing on religious sites unless insurgents use them to attack coalition forces.

The Malaysian prime minister criticized Israel's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, but keep some settlements in the West Bank, which is disputed by the Palestinians.

Malaysia, which chairs the OIC this year, called the emergency meeting at the request of Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat, after President Bush backed the Israeli plan.

The meeting was originally scheduled for later this month, but was pushed forward due to the worsening situation in the Middle East. The OIC has often had trouble reaching a consensus.

But political analyst William Case, from Australia's Griffiths University, says that under the Malaysian prime minister's leadership that may change. He says Mr. Abdullah is a moderate figure who is devout in his practice of Islam, but in political terms, a secular leader. "With the OIC under his direction, it might then be taken more seriously in any appeals that it might make to the United States to, I guess, return to the 'road map to peace,' begin to take that whole agenda more seriously and the OIC might have a little bit more influence in Washington than it otherwise would," said Mr. Case. Although it was not on the meeting agenda, some OIC countries said they might send troops to help protect the United Nations if it returned to Iraq. The United Nations suspended operations in Iraq last October after deadly bombings at its Baghdad headquarters.

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