By Muklis Ali, Reuters
BOGOR, Indonesia (Reuters) – Around 20 Muslim clerics from around the world called on Wednesday for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but no clerics from the war-shattered country made it to the meeting in Indonesia.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono hosted the gathering aimed at encouraging reconciliation in Iraq as part of efforts to see Indonesia, the worldâ€™s most populous Muslim nation, take a bigger role in global issues and in particular in the Middle East.
Clerics from countries including Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Malaysia attended, but with no clerics from Iraq there will be doubts over how much influence the initiative is likely to have.
â€œThe conference urged the withdrawal of foreign coalition forces led by the U.S. in a timely, orderly and peaceful manner,â€ the meetingâ€™s closing statement, which was in Arabic, said.
Hasyim Muzadi, a cleric who leads Indonesiaâ€™s largest Muslim organization, the 40-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama, admitted the â€œthe road ahead is long.â€
â€œThis international conference is only at a mapping stage in which there was a collective will. It is still useful because we came to the same vision,â€ he told a closing news conference in the colonial-style white-painted presidential palace in Bogor.
â€œThe second step is how we consult significant parties that have roles in reducing tension,â€ said Muzadi, who described the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as â€œthe biggest aggression against a nationâ€ this century.
Yudhoyono said in a speech at the opening of the conference on Tuesday that Muslim nations should ultimately replace U.S.-led forces in Iraq after a period of national reconciliation.
He had originally made this proposal at a joint news conference with U.S. President George W. Bush last November in the same venue in Bogor.
But since he outlined the proposal on Bushâ€™s second visit to Indonesia there has been little evidence of his ideas gaining much traction.
Under the Bush administrationâ€™s new Iraq policy announced earlier this year, the Pentagon has increased force levels in Iraq by about 30,000 troops in an attempt to regain control of security and reduce sectarian violence.
But opposition Democrats who hold the majority in the U.S. Congress are seeking to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq in the near future.
Some Bush policies, especially in the Middle East, are deeply unpopular in Indonesia, where 85 percent of the population follows Islam. Jakarta and most Indonesians have consistently criticized the U.S.-led military movement and presence in Iraq.