Mideast Ministers Want Independent Iraq

U.S. and British "occupation forces" should quickly leave Iraq, and the United Nations should have a central role in the creation of a new Iraqi government, foreign ministers from the region said early Saturday.

After an emergency meeting to discuss fallout from the war, the ministers also called on the U.S.-led coalition to fulfill obligations under international law for maintaining security and stability in Iraq while there and for protecting the rights of the Iraqi people and their cultural heritage.

"American forces are occupation forces, even the Americans and British have said that," the host, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, said at a closing news conference. "They cannot fulfill their obligations according to the Geneva convention unless they are called what they are."

The joint declaration also condemned U.S. threats against Syria for allegedly harboring members of the ousted Iraqi regime and developing chemical weapons. The ministers urged dialogue to promote regional stability and welcomed U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's announcement that he will visit Damascus.

The meeting in the Saudi capital included the foreign ministers of all Iraq's neighbors -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Iran. Egypt and Bahrain also participated.

The final statement stressed the foreign troops had an "obligation to withdraw from Iraq and allow Iraqis to exercise their right to self determination." Ministers said they wanted it to be done quickly but didn't set a deadline.

"We certainly would like the Americans to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible," Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said, echoing comments of many of his colleagues. "If the United Nations is there, certainly they can take care of their own future."

The statement said the United Nations should have a central role in rebuilding Iraq but stressed that "the Iraqi people should administer and govern their country by themselves," including making decisions on the exploitation of the country's oil wealth.

"The Iraqi people have the final say," Saud said. "We won't be interfering and we won't accept any other interference in the Iraqi affairs."

The lifting of U.N. sanctions depended on the formation of a new government that could meet Iraq's obligations to the Security Council, Saud added.

Reflecting Turkey's fears about the possibility of a Kurdish breakaway state in northern Iraq that could incite Turkey's own Kurdish population, the statement stressed commitment to Iraq's territorial integrity.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Iraq's democratically elected government should represent all ethnic groups.

Saudi Arabia called the meeting to get Middle Eastern countries involved in the rebuilding of Iraq and creation of a new government.

Most Arab countries oppose the United States' plan to lead an interim administration of Iraq, with Iraqis initially in advisory roles. They have instead called for a government chosen by Iraqis themselves under U.N. supervision.

Saud also urged the countries to offer humanitarian assistance and help in rebuilding Iraq.