Fri, 11 Apr 2003

RI Muslims want quick end of U.S. invasion

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Despite their constant opposition against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Indonesian Muslim leaders expect the war to end immediately after coalition forces have taken control of Baghdad.

"The sooner the invasion ends, the better for Iraqi civilians," said Solahuddin Wahid, deputy chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country's largest Muslim organization.

He maintained that a prolonged war would only cause more suffering among the Iraqi people, and that the NU would continue to collect humanitarian assistance for the Iraqis.

Solahuddin said the fall of Baghdad was widely expected due to the disparity of power between the coalition troops and the Iraqi military.

He asserted that NU's opposition to the attack by the U.S. and its allies on Iraq did not reflect their support for President Saddam Hussein, whose whereabouts remain a mystery.

"Our concerns deal with the illegal invasion and the humanitarian tragedy suffered by the Iraqis as a result of the war," he said.

Thousands of civilians have died and have been wounded during the U.S.-led war, which began on March 20.

Solahuddin said the Indonesian Interfaith Group, of which he is a member, would now shift its attention to recovery in Iraq. The group plans to meet next week to discuss the latest developments in Iraq.

The group, comprising leaders of various religious groups, has persistently campaigned against the war. Prior to March 20, the group's delegation traveled to several countries to call for peace, including the Vatican.

Their members include chairman of the Indonesian Conference of Bishops Julius Cardinal Darmaatmadja and chairman of the Indonesian Communion of Churches Nathan Setiabudi.

"We are calling for a broader role to be played by the United Nations regarding Iraq's reconstruction," Solahuddin said.

Another member of the group, Ahmad Syafii Maarif, who also chairs the country's second largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah, shared Solahuddin's expectation.

Syafii said an immediate end to the war in Iraq would prevent a large-scale humanitarian crisis in the oil-rich Middle Eastern country.

However, he maintained that the U.S. and its allies would be always remembered as imperialist forces for striking Iraq without the consent of the UN.

"I have never supported Saddam, but this is not the issue. I fear that the invasion will sustain animosity against the Americans and hurt the efforts to promote antiradicalism," Syafii said.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, which saw wave of anti-U.S. rallies even before the war began.

Separately, the coordinator of the Indonesian Committee of Solidarity for the Iraqi People (KISRA), Hidayat Nurwahid, said on Thursday he had appointed a team to handle humanitarian assistance in Iraq.

Called the Food for Iraq Program, the solidarity movement had raised some 100,000 euros since it held the largest rally against the war thus far early this month.

The humanitarian assistance team left for Syria on Thursday evening.