PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia – Delegates to the world's largest gathering of Islamic nations opened their biggest meeting in three years Saturday with calls for the eviction of U.S. troops from Iraq and fears that the recent Israeli air strike in Syria (search) could spark a larger Mideast war.
The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (search) also sought to get backing for its effort to prevent the deployment of Turkish peacekeepers to its territory.
"We don't like to have any peacekeeping troops from neighboring countries, because it might cause problems inside Iraq," said Riyadh al-Fadhli, an Iraqi delegate attending preparatory meetings for next week's summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (search).
"The situation now in Iraq is very sensitive," al-Fadhli said. "It cannot take more difficulties and more dangerous situations inside Iraq."
The gathering of the 57 countries in the Islamic Conference, the world's biggest Muslim political grouping, is its first regular summit since the Sept. 11 attacks brought terrorism to the center of world politics.
Divisions over Iraq threatened to prevent Islamic leaders from finding a unified voice to address a widespread feeling that the war against terrorism has turned into a war against Muslims.
Senior officials opened discussions with a prayer Saturday in Malaysia's new administrative capital, Putrajaya. They will lay out positions for their foreign ministers and national leaders to consider later in the week, ranging from Israel's airstrike on Syria to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
But Iraq took center stage.
Musa Braiza, head of the Jordanian delegation, said a resolution would acknowledge that positive change was underway in Iraq but would emphasize the full restoration of Iraqi sovereignty.
Abdelouahed Belkaziz, the OIC's secretary general, said Islamic nations "are still under the strain of extremely difficult challenges and unprecedented threats to our countries' independence, sovereignty, security and courses."
Top priority should go to "the eviction of foreign forces from Iraq, allowing the United Nations to administer Iraqi affairs (as a) prelude to restoration of Iraq's independence, and to the rebuilding of what has been destroyed over the past 20 years, all in accordance with a clear and short timetable," he said.
Host Malaysia, led by blunt-spoken Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, had attempted to keep the U.S.-picked Iraqi council from taking the seat formerly held by Saddam's government, viewing the council as puppets.
Mahathir denounced Israel and the United States for allegedly trying to spark a Mideast war with the Israeli air strike against an alleged terrorist camp in Syria in retaliation for a suicide terrorist bombing the day before that killed 19 people.
"Israel has been urging America to invade Syria, and Americans seemed to be reluctant, so in order to force the hand of America, Israel invades Syria," Mahathir said.
The prime minister said there wasn't much the Islamic nations could do.
"Well, we can go to war," he said sarcastically "but we have no capacity to go to war. That's the problem. Because we allow ourselves to become weak, people bully us."
Malaysia has said Muslim states should not heed U.S. calls to send peacekeepers to Iraq unless the United Nations takes control of such operations. Washington wants troops from other countries to help relieve the burden on its 130,000 troops there.
Turkey has given the green light to send troops, raising objections among the Iraqi Governing Council, which fears the troops would interfere in Iraq's internal affairs and that Turkey's conflict with its Kurdish minority could spill over to engulf Kurds in northern Iraq.
Tahsin Burcuoglu, head of Turkey's delegation, said his country was assuming its neighborly responsibility and suggested that countries that wait for U.N. cover that may never materialize were satisfied with doing nothing.
"Everybody among the Islamic countries has to make a choice," Burcuoglu said. "If there is no such resolution, then what should be the position of Islamic countries — to stay out and wait for something else and to just observe the tragedy going on?"
But Iran's deputy foreign minister, Gholamali Khoshroo, said that Muslim countries were unanimous in feeling that the United States should leave Iraq and hand over power to Iraqis. Striking a common position on peacekeepers would not be on the summit agenda, he said.
The OIC has been dismissed by critics as a toothless talk shop with few concrete achievements. Malaysian officials say their nation, as OIC chair for the next three years, will strive to transform the organization into an effective advocate.