President Pushes for Peace in Iraq

SBYBOGOR, West Java ~ President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called on Islamic leaders attending a conference on the Middle East here to find a way of contributing to peace in Iraq.

“We are gathered here in the name of peace, in the hope that by pooling our experiences, insights and ideas, we could find a way that leads to reconciliation in conflict-torn Iraq,” he said as the event opened on Tuesday.

The conference at the presidential palace in Bogor was attended by prominent clerics from Islam’s Shiite and Sunni sects.

Nine countries, including Iraq, and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference were represented, although none of Iraq’s key Islamic leaders attended.

“In this conflict in Iraq, religious leaders have a vital role to play … You have a unique role because you have the ear of the ummah (the community) in Iraq,” Yudhoyono said.

Islamic leaders would be much more acceptable to Iraqis “than all carrots and sticks,” he said, and Iraqis needed to feel that they were not alone.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said in an address that he hoped the conference would serve as a preliminary step towards greater engagement by Indonesia in Iraq.

The event was hosted by the government and the country’s two largest Islamic organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.

It came only a few days after Indonesia backed UN sanctions against Iran over its disputed atomic program.

Nahdlatul Ulama chairman Hasyim Muzadi said the government’s stance had disappointed many Muslim countries and could be why eight of the 23 foreign Islamic leaders invited did not show up.

Delegates from Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Malaysia and host Indonesia attended the conference.

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