Inaugurating the conference, the Emir of Qatar, Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, said conditions in the occupied territories had worsened to an "unacceptable" extent.

He urged the United States and international community to step in as Israel uses “excessive violence” against Palestinians which he said was a violation of international law, UN principles and human rights.

The Emir said the Islamic world questioned why Washington, the main Middle East peace broker, had not stepped in to halt Israel’s acts.

Bridging gap

Organised by the US-based Brookings Institution’s Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, along with Qatar, the conference is aimed at defining what divides the US and Islamic world and bridging the gaps, said Martin Indyk, Saban Centre’s director.

The Emir said the Islamic world questioned why Washington, the main Middle East peace broker, had not stepped in to halt Israel’s acts

Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, described the task as “very difficult” due to profound misunderstandings between the two worlds. However, he felt optimistic the Doha forum would generate ideas to advance the interests of both sides.

But in the opening address, many participants discussed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and occupation of Iraq.

The US Central Command launched the March invasion from Qatar, where it is based.

Nearly 10 months into the war, US-led forces have yet to restore stability and security to occupied Iraq. The invasion, not authorised by any UN resolution, soured already tense ties between the US and Muslim world due to the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

Territorial unity

And now there are rising fears over Iraq’s territorial integrity, as ethnic tensions grow in the heavily-populated Kurdish north.

Qatar’s Emir called for maintaining the country’s unity, stressing the need for Iraqis to choose their leadership and government.

Conference participant Edward Djerejian, director of the Baker Institute, echoed these comments, saying the worst case scenario would be a territorial disintegration of Iraq.

Racked by ongoing violence, the turning point for Iraq would be when Iraqis agree on a political, economic and cultural agreement and implement it, said the former US ambassador to Syria. He believed this would occur when the future government’s political system provided all groups equal decision-making powers.

Djerejian, a former US State Department expert to the Middle East, served under former US President George Bush Snr's administration. Speaking to Aljazeera.net, he said he had asked Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Masud Barzani in 1991 about their aspirations in Iraq.

"They said in their hearts, they wanted an autonomous country, but in their heads they knew this was not possible," he said. They understand that the creation of a sovereign Kurdistan would unleash havoc with neighbours Syria and Turkey, who host Kurdish populations, said the career diplomat.


No post-war plans

Former US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, vice-chairman of the forum, said it was a “shame” there had been no post-war plan for Iraq. The looting which took place immediately after US and British tanks rolled into the capital was “inexcusable”, the former US ambassador to the UN told Aljazeera.net.

However, he warned a withdrawal of occupation forces now would plunge the country into further chaos and called for the involvement of member states of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC).

“US military victory is never difficult… but Washington needs to listen to its friends more often,” he said. He said there were concerns if US forces extended their occupation, those who had initially welcomed them would also demand their withdrawal.

Holbrooke was also a chief negotiator of the historic 1995 Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia. He said there was no chance for Washington to exert military force on any other nation, including Iran, because US troops were overstretched around the world.

The second annual conference has attracted more than 100 intellectuals, academics and diplomats and government officials from Asia, Muslim community leaders in Europe, the United States, Middle East and Africa. Former US President Bill Clinton will be addressing the conference at the closing session on Monday.