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Islamic group vows to assist government

ISTANBUL -- The world's largest Islamic group threw its support yesterday behind Iraq's interim government, saying it will actively assist the administration as it takes power, a change for Muslim nations that shunned an earlier US-backed council.

The endorsement by the 57 countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the second key statement of support in two days, is seen as a boost to the legitimacy of the new Iraqi administration as it struggles to establish control and battle insurgents.

The Istanbul Declaration was adopted at the closing session yesterday of the three-day foreign ministers' conference.

The OIC includes all of Iraq's neighbors, and its support is important for the interim government ahead of the planned June 30 handover of power. The neighbors -- Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait -- and regional power Egypt held a meeting Tuesday and issued a similar statement backing Baghdad.

The statement also said Muslim countries, pushed by the United States to take steps toward democracy, would help one another change, but added that such changes should come from within. The members also declared their support for the Palestinian people and called on the United States and other powers to "stop the Israeli aggression."

"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.

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