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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Islamic Group Endorses Iraqi Government

June 17, 2004|From Associated Press

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The world's largest Islamic group threw its support behind Iraq's interim government Wednesday, saying it will "actively assist" the administration as it takes power.

The endorsement by the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, is likely to help boost the legitimacy of the new Iraqi administration as it struggles to establish control and battle insurgents.

The Istanbul Declaration, adopted at the closing session of the three-day foreign ministers conference, came two weeks before the planned June 30 hand-over of power by the U.S.-led occupation authority in Iraq.

"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.

Most members strongly opposed the U.S.-led war that drove Saddam Hussein from power, and there is little support in Islamic countries for sending any peacekeepers to help American-led forces.

The interim government's predecessor, the Iraqi Governing Council, had been branded a U.S. creation by most Islamic countries, 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."

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