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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 October, 2003, 08:57 GMT 09:57 UK
Call for US to exit Iraq
Soldier and Iraqi civilian
Security is still a major problem for the US in Iraq

A conference of government leaders from the world's Islamic nations has begun with a call to end "foreign rule" in Iraq.

Instead the United Nations should take over the administration of Iraqi affairs, said the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) secretary-general Abdelouahed Belkeziz.

The conference of the 57-member OIC is taking place in Malaysia and comes ahead of next week's summit, when heads of state from up to 35 countries are set to gather.

The summit will be the first since the al-Qaeda attacks on the United States in September 2001.

'Face of the storm'

Addressing the start of the conference on Saturday, Mr Belkeziz said of all the conflicts involving Muslims, the occupation of Iraq and the Palestinian problem needed to be addressed most urgently.

"Foremost of these is the eviction of foreign forces from Iraq, allowing the United Nations to administer Iraqi affairs,"

He told senior officials the Islamic world had been "in the face of the storm" in the three years since the last triennial summit in 2000.

As far as Iraq was concerned, he said the people there had "been afflicted by the occupation of their territories, usurpation of their sovereignty, denial of their independence, destruction, plunder and burning of their country".

He called for Islamic commitment to address the situation following the US-led invasion "with a view to salvaging Iraq and helping its people".

In his speech Mr Belkeziz also condemned Israel for what he said was its failure to live up to peace process commitments.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will attend the summit

"It [Israel] continues to be entrenched in its illegal practices of punishing the Palestinian people," he said.

The eight-day OIC conference - which ends after the world leaders depart from the summit - should also discuss major challenges to Muslims arising from terrorism and globalisation and "campaigns against Islam, Muslims and human rights," he said.

Revitalising organisation

Discussions about Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are set to dominate the OIC's summit, which runs from 16-17 October.

The BBC's Jonathan Kent in Kuala Lumpur, says Malaysia, believes recent events may provide the impetus to revitalise the OIC.

The organisation was set up to promote unity and solidarity among Muslims and their governments.

It was formed in September 1969, weeks after an arson attack on one of Islam's holiest sites, the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Those attending the summit include the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, as well as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

There will also be a delegation from Iraq's US-appointed governing council.

Also on the agenda is a move to persuade the OIC's 57 members to ratify the universal Islamic declaration of human rights, drawn up in 1981 to mark the beginning of Islam's 15th century.

The BBC's Jonathan Kent
"There is plenty of the agenda here"

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