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OIC meet in Doha: mudslinging dominated the OIC conference in Qatar.

"And thou shall take refuge in the braid of unity that god hath dangled before all of thee." The Vice-Chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council, Izzat Ibrahim, Al Duri quoted this verse from the holy Koran as he began his speech to a hastily arranged emergency summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in March. The gathering of the 57-member IOC was called by the organisation's chairman, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, in the hope of raising a unified voice from the Islamic world against war with Iraq. The meeting was held at a five-star hotel in Doha, only a short distance from Al Udeid, a vast American military base, which will serve as the headquarters for the invasion commander, General Tommy Franks, and a launching pad for airstrikes.

The Islamic summit came 10 days after a gathering of non-aligned countries in Malaysia and only three days after a meeting of the Arab League held in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt. The most tantalising notion of the gathering was the proposal, first heard at the Arab League meeting, from the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, for Saddam Hussein to go into exile.

Within the first hour, the televised opening session descended into a mudslinging match between the Iraqis and the Kuwaitis. In his speech, which was the 11th on a list of 24 by delegates from the 54 nations who attended, Iraq's Izzat Al Duri accused the Kuwaitis of being "agents of imperialism who had helped mass American troops year after year on Iraq's borders".

He was angered, he later told reporters, by Kuwait's Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad's support for the UAE's proposal, made at Sharm el Sheikh suggesting Saddam should go into exile. Mr Al Sabah had described the UAE initiative as bold, wise and realistic in that it aimed at sparing the Iraqi nation the ills of war.

Kuwaiti Information Minister Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahd, who waved a miniature Kuwaiti flag during Mr Al Duri's tirade, later stormed out of the hall towards a mass of reporters and television cameras where he provided a list of Iraq's violations of agreements and resolutions reached at previous Arab and non-allied summits.

There is a history of bad blood between the Kuwaitis and Mr Al Duri. He is seen by Kuwaitis as `untrustworthy' after double-crossing them in 1990 when he embraced Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Saad Al Abdallah in Jeddah agreeing a settlement, then sneaked back to Baghdad in the middle of the night as Iraqi tanks rolled into Kuwait city.

The 1990 Cairo Arab summit reached a united stand to join an American-led coalition to expel Saddam from Kuwait by United Nations' resolutions reached under Chapter Seven. The coalition included troops from a dozen nations of the Arab League treaty, amounting to more than 100,000 men. Arab forces from the GCC's Al Jazeera shield spearheaded the final assault that liberated Kuwait in February 1991. However no such cohesion was reached in Doha. Its final communique concentrated on condemning Israel and rejected a military strike against Iraq. While welcoming the work of UN inspectors, the OIC called on Iraq to respect UN and Arab summit resolutions and to return Kuwaiti prisoners captured in 1990. With the exception of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, President Ali Abdallah Saleh of Yemen and the prime ministers of Turkey and Malaysia, the level of delegations to the IOC Summit was low, especially from nations that mattered most. The Saudis sent their assistant foreign minister, while the Syrians sent their ambassador from Cairo to Doha. The Qataris did their best but it seemed to some that the Iraqis were determined to go to war. This attitude worried most people who thought, in the words of a Qatari official, the Iraqis were in a suicidal mood or that they have some nasty weapon up their sleeve.

As in Sharm el Sheikh, ideas were discussed behind closed doors and much effort was expended on the idea of Saddam Hussein going into exile. On the eve of the conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi presented a suggestion, which was a more subtle formula of the UAE initiative, that would send Saddam to exile by default. He suggested holding a referendum of Iraqi people controlled by the UN, as well as Iran mediating a reconciliation with Baghdad and the Iraqi opposition and the return of Iraqi exiles. UAE officials told The Middle East they were in discussion with the Iranians. The UAE hoped war could be averted because it would deal peacefully with President Bush's determination to achieve "regime change". The UAE proposal made an impression at the Arab League meeting because it came from an elder statesman, diplomats said. Sheikh Zayed, who in his mid-80s, is the internationally respected overseer of the UAE's oil reserves, the third largest in the region after those of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. UAE sources said most leaders in the region were genuine in their desire to avert war and they would not like to see Saddam "handcuffed and dragged away to face trial," their initiative would provide him with a dignified way out, the sources added.

In Doha, Sheikh Abdullah, the son of Sheikh Zayed and the UAE Minister of Information, mentioned the proposal in various conference side rooms. Sheikh Abdullah was not in a position to propose it officially because the Arab League had refused to offer it for discussion.

Sheikh Abdullah revealed that his nation had actually presented the idea that Saddam should go into exile to the Iraqis two months earlier. "It was obvious then the Americans were very determined to get rid of the regime," he said. Exile seemed the obvious way to avoid war, which in a `worst case scenario' would bring "chaos in Iraq." However, in repeated briefings with journalists, top UAE officials said they did not really see the Iraqi leader giving in to pressure from the Arab and Islamic world and agreed the probability of him leaving Iraq voluntarily was remote. And, as Sheikh Abdullah noted, "time is running out."

The UAE proposal suggested that forces from Arab League countries--like the 1961 force that went in to protect Kuwait after invasion threats from an earlier dictator--General Abdul Karim Qasim--should enter Iraq and try to stabilise the situation as soon as Saddam leaves. These forces would serve in lieu of American troops.

UAE officials were at pains to convince reporters that their proposal for Saddam Hussein to stand down was not an initiative originally put forward by Washington. American and other western diplomats in Doha backed the UAE.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said, between the Arab Summit and the IOC summit, that it would be helpful if the Arab countries called on the Iraqi leader to go into exile.

The Emirates led the way in reducing economic sanctions that were imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. They started a ferry service from Dubai to Basra, which was widely seen as part of Sheikh Zayed's own belief that his country should remain in contact and help all Islamic peoples, regardless of what he personally thought of their rulers.

Following a spectacular display of disunity at the end, the meeting settled on a final communique that concentrated on condemning Israel. It also expressed opposition to a war and urged members not to take part but stopped short of considering the bolder initiatives, debated on the sidelines, that called for the exile of the government of Saddam Hussein, as the only way to avert a conflict.

Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jaber, who is a modernising force in the Gulf and wider Arab politics, held a western-style press conference where he was critical of certain Arab League and ICO members. While not mentioning any countries by name, he said all Gulf states and many Muslim nations were hosting US military facilities, but for some reason they wanted to single out Qatar for criticism for doing the same thing. On a frank and thought provoking note he observed that the efforts of Islamic nations had achieved "less in their effect" than European diplomacy over the Iraq's crisis.

The conference certainly failed to return any ground breaking resolutions but apart from some trading of insults there were no major mishaps which is presumably what Iraq's Foreign Minister Naji Sabri Al Hadithi was thinking when commenting on events in Doha, he told journalists: "It went rather well."
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Title Annotation:Organization of the Islamic Conference
Author:Darwish, Adel
Publication:The Middle East
Geographic Code:7QATA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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