- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — Iraq’s foreign minister said yesterday that Muslim nations must accept the reality that the U.S.-led coalition will remain in Iraq for a while and he urged them to contribute peacekeeping forces and money.

Ayad Alawi, current head of the Iraqi Governing Council’s rotating leadership, said on arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for a summit of Islamic nations that the council expects other Islamic countries to stand firmly behind it “during this difficult period.”

The council wants full Iraqi sovereignty “as soon as possible,” Mr. Alawi told the Malaysian news agency, Bernama. But that won’t happen “without a firm and positive attitude from the international community.”

“We would like the Islamic countries to assist us to move forward and for Iraq to have democracy and stability,” Mr. Alawi said.

Islamic nations attending an Organization of the Islamic Conference summit were largely cool to the request for troops. U.S. allies Turkey and Pakistan promoted the idea of a Muslim peacekeeping force, but with anger at the United States running high, even Islamabad was doubtful that Islamic nations would agree.

“The sentiment of this meeting is that stability should come as soon as possible in Iraq,” said Musa Braiza, a Jordanian representative to the summit. The countries “will do anything possible and everything positive. But the question of forces is now not on the agenda.”

At the outset of the weeklong meetings Saturday, senior officials from the 57 members of the OIC — the world’s largest Islamic organization — urged the “eviction” of U.S. troops from Iraq. But the Iraqi delegation said that was not likely for the near future.

Hoshyar Zebari, another council representative at the meeting, was pessimistic that Muslim nations would join a peacekeeping force being raised by the United States to relieve the burden on the 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

“I don’t think there is any desire by the Muslim countries to send troops,” Mr. Zebari said.

So far, the only Muslim nation that has agreed to a major deployment to Iraq is Turkey. But most members of the Iraqi council fiercely oppose any Turkish peacekeepers — fearing that neighboring Turkey has designs to dominate Iraq and could stir up problems with Iraqi Kurds.

That concern is strongest in the Kurdish-dominated north of the country, where some Kurds have threatened to attack any Turkish military convoys passing through their territory en route to postings in the “Sunni triangle” north and west of Baghdad.

Speaking yesterday in the Turkish capital, Ankara, Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug said: “If there is a situation in which Kurdish groups in the region attack our convoys while crossing through northern Iraq, then the necessary response will be given. It’s something that they need to think about.

“We have the capacity to protect ourselves,” he added.

Mr. Zebari, a Kurd, said discussions were continuing among Turkey, the United States and the Governing Council about the sensitivities over Turkey’s offer to deploy a peacekeeping force.

Turkey once ruled what is now Iraq. It has fought a long campaign against Kurdish insurgents on its soil, which many Iraqis fear could spill over into Iraq’s own Kurdish areas.

At the Malaysia summit, Turkey’s foreign minister urged the OIC to set up its own peacekeeping force for Iraq.

“We have to take up the issue, take the initiative, and act jointly,” Abdullah Gul was quoted as saying by Turkey’s Anatolia news agency.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri said Pakistan was thinking of an all-Muslim peacekeeping force comprising troops from OIC countries.

But he told the Associated Press he doubted the OIC would reach consensus on such a plan because the organization “represents the whole gamut of the Muslim world” — an apparent reference to nations like Syria and Iran, which deeply oppose U.S. policy.

He said Pakistan would not agree to join the peacekeeping effort without an authorizing resolution from the United Nations and the participation of other Muslim countries.

“We will wait for a United Nations resolution, which could reflect international consensus,” Mr. Kasuri said. “Even then, we would need other Muslim countries to go along with us, because we want the people of Iraq to perceive us not as an extension of the occupation, but as people who have come to help.”

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who chaired the discussions, said any Muslim contributions to a peacekeeping force would come on a country-by-country basis.

“The OIC is not an organization that is a military bloc, neither is our charter formatted to allow us to form an OIC force to operate,” Mr. Syed Hamid said.

The Iraqi Governing Council’s presence at the summit was in dispute until two weeks ago, when host Malaysia dropped its position that the council was illegitimate without a U.N. mandate and should not take the seat formerly held by Saddam Hussein’s government. Arab countries argued that the council was transitional and legitimate enough, for now.

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