Islamic countries on Thursday urged the United Nations to return to Iraq and take "a central role" in restoring peace and security, citing concerns about heavy civilian casualties and alleged abuses by the U.S.-led occupying forces.
Delegates to a special session of the 57-members Organization of the Islamic Conference (search) urged the U.N. Security Council to pass a new resolution giving the world body the "necessary mandate" to restore peace in Iraq.
They did not give a timetable, saying only that the resolution should come "in due course." Elsewhere, however, the meeting urged the current U.S.-backed administrators to stick to their June 30 deadline to hand power back to Iraqis.
"We recognize and stress the importance of the United Nations in playing a central role to establish peace, security and stability in Iraq," a draft statement by delegates to the meeting says.
A Security Council resolution should empower the United Nations "with the necessary mandate and authority to ensure the achievement of this goal," says the draft, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
The statement is expected to be formally adopted later Thursday.
In a separate declaration, delegates condemned Israel's plan to withdraw from Gaza but keep some settlements in Palestinian territory, and criticized the U.S. government for supporting it.
"The plan and the support of the United States ... are detrimental to the peace process in the Middle East as they are denying the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people," the declaration said.
The declaration also urged the Security Council to prevent further assassinations of Palestinians by Israel and called for U.N. peacekeepers to monitor the peace process.
The declaration was formally adopted by the 20 OIC members who attended the meeting, and carries the full weight of the 57-member organization.
Opening the emergency meeting of Islamic states, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (search) warned that the deteriorating situation in Iraq and in Palestinian territories threatened stability in the Middle East.
Some OIC countries arrived at the one-day session saying they might send troops to protect the United Nations if the world body returns to Iraq, though it was not on the agenda. The United Nations pulled its staff from Iraq in October after two bombings at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
A U.N. resolution would open the door for participation from countries who believe the U.S. has no legitimate authority in Iraq, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said.
But one Iraqi official, Foreign Affairs Ministry Undersecretary Hamid al-Bayati, said Iraq doesn't want countries to send more troops.
"We think the Iraqis are capable of maintaining security and there is no need for any foreign forces to be in the country," al-Bayati told reporters after the meeting.
Delegates condemned the latest violence in Iraq — suicide bombings Wednesday that killed at least 68 people in the southern city of Basra — and suggested they added urgency to the deliberations.
"Such terrorist acts should be eradicated from the whole world, not just Iraq," Iraqi delegate Ghasann Mohsen told Associated Press Television News. "It should be faced with a strong will from the international community, the OIC, the Arab League (search), the United Nations — all international organizations."
Abdullah said the current administration in Iraq had failed to meet "the hopes and expectations" of the international community.
"Gone are the joy and jubilation of some Iraqis [at] the collapse of the regime of Saddam Hussein," he said. "What we see today is nothing less than the fierce resistance of people against what is increasingly seen as an occupation force."
In the draft statement, delegates expressed "grave concern over the current situation in Iraq, in particular the sheer disregard to the protection of civilians, thus resulting in heavy civilian casualties."
Similar concerns were expressed about "the deliberate and irresponsible targeting and destruction" of places of worship by occupying forces.
Actions on both counts were a clear breach of the Geneva conventions, the statement said.
The meeting was called at short notice in response to this month's surge in violence between U.S. troops and insurgents in Iraq and the White House's backing of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for "unilateral disengagement" from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.