The world’s largest Islamic group threw its support Wednesday behind Iraq’s interim government, saying it will “actively assist” the administration as it takes power, a change for Muslim nations who shunned an earlier U.S.-backed council.
The endorsement by the 57 countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference is the second key statement of support in as many days and will help boost the legitimacy of the new Iraqi administration as it struggles to establish control and battle insurgents.
The Istanbul Declaration was adopted at the closing session Wednesday of the three-day foreign ministers’ conference.
The OIC includes all of Iraq’s neighbors, and its support is important for the interim government ahead of the planned June 30 handover of power. The neighbors — Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait — and regional power Egypt on Tuesday held a meeting on the sidelines of the OIC and issued a similar statement backing Baghdad.
Support for Palestinian cause
The statement also said Muslim countries would help each other reform, but added that changes should come from within. The members also declared their support for the Palestinian people and called on the United States and other powers to “stop the Israeli aggression.”
“We have decided to actively assist Iraq in its transition and in meeting its needs,” the declaration said.
“We support the steps toward ending the occupation in Iraq,” it added. “We equally support the process in which the Iraqis will assume their sovereignty. We state that this assumption of sovereignty must be full.”
The declaration did not elaborate and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul gave few details at a news conference.
“We believe that Islamic countries need to be more active,” he said, adding that under Turkey’s upcoming chairmanship, the OIC would “channel” the capabilities of the Islamic world toward Iraq.
Sovereignty a key concern
Most members strongly opposed the U.S.-led war that drove Saddam Hussein from power, and any aid is likely to be political or economic. There is little support in Islamic countries for sending peacekeepers to help U.S.-led forces.
“The issue is not sending forces. What the situation in Iraq needs now is that Iraqis exercise their sovereignty in full,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told reporters.
The interim government’s predecessor was branded a U.S. creation by most Islamic states which kept their distance.
“It is a breakthrough as far as Iraq’s neighborhood is concerned,” said Soner Cagaptay, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy“Finally an organization in the region has come forth in favor of the interim government. That hasn’t happened in the past.”
But, he added, for it to have a serious impact, groups like the OIC would have to forcefully condemn insurgent attacks in Iraq to demonstrate that such violence was opposed by the Muslim world.
U.N. resolution gets support
The Istanbul declaration also welcomed last week’s U.N. resolution on Iraq, which endorsed the transfer of sovereignty from the U.S.-led administration and authorized a multinational force.
Reform in the Islamic world was also a key issue at the meeting, especially in light of Washington’s calls for increased democracy in the Islamic world. Many Muslim leaders have regarded the U.S. calls as interference in their domestic affairs.
“We, as the OIC members, will assist each other in our progress and reform, which should come from within. The OIC, as an institution, will also develop ways and means for supporting progress in a collective framework,” the declaration said.
The OIC declaration also urged the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia to work to stop “the Israeli aggression in all its forms, secure international protection for the Palestinian people ... and seek a lasting solution through the implementation of the road map.”
The “road map” peace plan envisages a Palestinian state by next year but its implementation has been stalled by continuing violence.
The declaration also condemned terrorism, including state terrorism.
“We agree to redouble our efforts in fighting this international scourge,” it said.