Muslim Leaders Call For Unity Over Iraq

APPresident Putin standing with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov at the OIC summit in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Thursday.
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia -- Delegates at a Muslim leaders' summit struggled on Thursday to agree on the future of postwar Iraq, while President Vladimir Putin, attending his first Islamic summit, rejected post-Sept. 11 perceptions that Islam is a violent faith.

Leaders of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference -- meeting for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States -- made repeated calls for unity on the summit's opening day.

A draft resolution hammered out earlier this week by the OIC would have called for the United Nations to play a central role in Iraq and to set a timetable for a return of Iraq's sovereignty, while urging that U.S.-led coalition troops leave as soon as possible.

But Iraq's U.S.-chosen Governing Council said it preferred to determine its own schedule. "We say [we] should set a timetable, not somebody else set a timetable for us," council member Mahmoud Othman said.

The OIC represents some 1.2 billion Muslims. Most member states opposed the war in Iraq, and called for a resolution condemning the U.S-occupation. In a measure of the sensitivity surrounding Iraq within the group, host Malaysia had tried to prevent the Governing Council from attending the summit, viewing the body as a U.S. puppet.

Othman said the council did not oppose a central role for the United Nations in Iraq's political process, but that it was unrealistic for the world body to control coalition troops. "Whether we like it or not, the forces which go into Iraq will be under the command of the [U.S.-led] coalition," he said.

Despite the disputes, leaders remained determined to make a "clear and unequivocal" stand on their hopes for Iraq, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said. Syed Hamid said it was still unclear what form the statement would take -- a resolution or just a weaker declaration -- but "it will be the voice of the OIC."

Mohammed Samhan, the United Arab Emirates' director of international organizations, said the Iraqi Governing Council asked the OIC to scrap its proposed resolution due to U.S. pressure.

At the United Nations on Thursday, the Security Council unanimously passed a U.S. resolution aimed at attracting more troops and money to stabilize Iraq. (See story, page 3.)

Putin, attending the summit as a guest, told delegates that Islam had nothing to do with violence. Delegates have complained that perceptions that terrorism and Islam are linked have become common since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Russia's position is clear -- terrorism cannot be identified with any religion," he said. Putin's attendance comes despite continuing fighting in Chechnya, which has created friction in the past between Russia and the Islamic world.

"I wish to affirm to you that we shall continue our efforts to achieve political stabilization in [Chechnya] with the involvement of all political forces," Putin said.