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Islamic Conference Ministers Gather for Emergency Summit

Heads of state and government ministers of the 56-member Islamic Conference are gathering in Qatar for an emergency summit on Iraq. The meeting is the latest in a series of high level gatherings on the subject. The leaders are expected to press for a peaceful solution to the confrontation over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Delegates to the emergency summit in Qatar are expected to call on the government in Baghdad to fully cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors and to press for a U.N.-mediated solution to the looming threat of war against Iraq.

Leaders of the conference, whose members represent most of the world's one billion Muslims, called the meeting last week, after a summit of the nonaligned Movement condemned the use of force to solve world crises. Some nonaligned leaders criticized the U.S. government and its coalition partners for preparing to wage war without backing from the U.N. Security Council. The Bush administration says Iraq is already in violation of U.N. resolutions to disarm or face attack, and therefore a new resolution is not needed.

A summit of the Arab League last Saturday also unanimously rejected war on Baghdad. However, during that meeting, the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, proposed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein step down in order to preserve peace in the region. Bahrain and Kuwait have since voiced support for this proposal, but most Arab governments have rejected it, saying it would set a dangerous precedent.

On Monday, ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council examined the proposal, but deferred it to Wednesday's summit.

Attendance by heads of state at the two-day event is expected to be relatively low. The suddenness with which the summit was called is preventing some heads of state from attending. Others have questioned the need for such a meeting.

Several Arab leaders are sending lower level delegations because of diplomatic tensions with other members. There has been heated debate over the presence of forces of the U.S.-led coalition in countries neighboring Iraq. Coalition forces are gathering in several Gulf states in preparation for a possible attack on Iraq. The parliament of Turkey this week refused to allow thousands of coalition forces to deploy in Turkey for a possible invasion of northern Iraq.

Organizers view the summit as perhaps a last chance for political leaders of the Muslim world to express a united call for peace. Observers note that these leaders are under rising popular pressure following large anti-war demonstrations in a number of their countries.