Islamic Bloc Chief’s Speech Barely Touches on Iraq and Syria

By Patrick Goodenough | June 19, 2014 | 4:20am EDT

Muslim foreign ministers meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. From left are Organization of Islamic Cooperation secretary-general Iyad Ameen Madani, Saudi foreign minister Saud Al-Faisal and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. (Photo: OIC news agency)

( – The conflict raging in Syria and Iraq hung heavily over a meeting of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) foreign ministers in Saudi Arabia Wednesday, but judging from the OIC chief’s keynote address, his top priority was “Palestine.”

OIC Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani devoted more time in his speech – which organizers said in advance would amount to “a review [of] the situation in the Muslim world” – to the situation in the Palestinian territories than to any other single crisis.

Those comments focused on Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque, with Madani referring to Israel as an “apartheid state” and calling for the submission to the International Criminal Court of “files on Israeli aggressions, violations, and notorious record of its officials and leaders.”

Other situations affecting Muslims that also received attention in the address, roughly in order of the amount of time he spent on them, included the southern Philippines, Mali, Central African Republic, northern Nigeria, Ukraine’s Crimea region and disputed Kashmir.

But the 4,000-plus word speech in Jeddah had just one direct reference to Syria and Iraq: “The political and security repercussions in Libya, Iraq and Syria haunt us deeply,” Madani said. “Perhaps, the deliberations of this meeting would crystallize a collective stand and an agreed political approach” to the matter, he added, noting that most countries affected were OIC member-states.

Later in the speech, Madani alluded to Syria and Iraq in remarks on sectarian division, which he called “betrayal of the message, major principles and noble purposes of Islam.”

If Madani in his speech largely skirted around the Iraq-Syria situation, other speakers did not.

Syrian National Coalition (SNC) President Ahmad al-Jarba in an impassioned plea urged Muslim governments to stop talking and act to help the opposition in its fight against both the Assad regime and jihadist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which he called “a cancer.”

“Let me be frank,” he said, according to an English translation released by the SNC. “The bloodbath that started in Syria is spreading to Iraq and unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

“What are you waiting for?” Jarba asked. “Are we going to wait until [ISIS] establishes its emirate state in two countries, violating their sovereignty and sanctity? Are we going to wait until [Iran-backed Shi’ite] Hezbollah militias arrive in Iraq to carry on spreading their sectarian hatred? Are we going to wait for a new country to witness a new massacre?”

“It is time for action,” he said. “Condemnation is not enough anymore.”

Saudi foreign minister Saud Al-Faisal in his speech called on the international community to intervene in Syria, where he said the Assad regime was carrying out a campaign of “violence and genocide” against a defenseless population.

Saud also warned of “an ominous threat of a civil war” in Iraq, saying no-one could predict its consequences for the region.

Briefing reporters on the OIC meeting sidelines, Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari announced Iraq had officially requested the U.S. to conduct air raids against jihadists that have seized control of large parts of the country. The request was confirmed later on Capitol Hill by chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated Iraqi government this week accused Saudi Arabia of supporting the jihadists. The kingdom in turn has accused Maliki of marginalizing minority Sunnis.

Zebari said he had held “frank discussions” with his Saudi hosts, and had asked them “to stop media incitement.”

The OIC’s 57 members are Muslim-majority countries, most of them Sunni, but also including the four Shi’ite-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan. Syria was suspended in August 2012.

The rest of Madani’s speech to the gathered foreign ministers touched on familiar themes at OIC events, including criticism of “attacks that abuse Islam” (Madani referred specifically to recent remarks by the president of the Czech Republic, who blamed “Islamic ideology” for extremist violence); difficulties faced by Muslim minorities; and condemnation of “any attempt to render terrorism equivalent to Islam.”

On the latter subject, Madani said the campaign against Boko Haram in Nigeria “should start by denying its assumed Islamic identity, as most of its victims are Muslims.”

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