Religious leaders discuss future of Iraq

 Representatives of Iraq's Muslim and Christian communities have begun talks in Amman, to discuss how they can contribute to a new leadership in their country. The two-day meeting in the capital of Jordan has been organised by the New York-based World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) and is being chaired by Prince Hassan. WCRP Secretary General William Vendley said the meeting "marked the first time all of Iraq's religious communities have met since Saddam Hussein took power" more than two decades ago. "Religion can be an asset in Iraq's reconstruction," he said. The meeting follows growing fears of a rise in Muslim fundamentalism in Iraq and potential threats to Iraq's Christians - who make up an estimated 3% of the population. Several organisations have recently expressed their concerns. The Barnabas Fund has highlighted several recent incidents of violence against Christians in Iraq. The US Institute on Religion and Public Policy also has also urged George Bush to do all he can to guarantee freedom of religion under the new Iraqi regime. A representative of the Sunni community, Ahmad Obeid Abdullah Al Qobissi, put much of the onus for Iraq's future on the United States as the occupying power. "Iraq has entered a dark tunnel and we don't see the end ... but we hope that America, and there are many good people in America, will return to the right track that benefits a great power," he told reporters. Qobissi said there were "signals of religious unity" in postwar Iraq and said the meeting should help consolidate these ties and contribute to the political and economic reconstruction of the war-battered country. For Archbishop Emanuel Delli, leader of Iraq's Chaldean Catholic community, the meeting was a chance to close ranks between the Christian and Muslim communities in Iraq and to build a strong platform "to help rebuild the country after this destructive war." Iraq needs peace and everyone to work to protect its rights, he said. Sheikh Jalal Al Husni Al Sagheer of the majority Shiite community in Iraq hoped that the meeting would act as a "lever to influence politicians and decision makers in one way or another" to resolve the problems facing Iraq. Prince Hassan opened the meeting by stressing the international community's "moral obligation" toward Iraq. "The best way to prevent conflict in Iraq ... is to create a space for Iraq's religious communities to contribute to the country's reconstruction," he said. More than 20 representatives of Iraq's religious communities are attending the meeting alongside 40 international representatives of the world's major faiths, organisers said. Source: Ekklesia

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