Christian, Shia, Sunni and Kurdish leaders also on Monday demanded the release of prisoners and a programme for rebuilding Iraq's armed forces after talks in Cairo aimed at ending conflict between their communities and achieving national reconciliation.

 

At the end of the three-day meeting sponsored by the Cairo-based Arab League, the Iraqi leaders called for the withdrawal of US and British forces from Iraq by immediately setting a timetable for gradually rebuilding Iraq's armed forces.

They condemned attacks on Iraqi civilians, government institutions and oil installations and called for the release of all detainees held without trial.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who set up the meeting, read the final statement at a session delayed by last-minute differences over how to describe the fighting to drive out US troops and overthrow the government.

Nagging differences


Even the final text did not meet unanimous approval. Harith al-Dari of the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), the highest Sunni body in Iraq, said he had reservations about last-minute additions.

Sources told Aljazeera's Cairo correspondent Atwar Bahjat that al-Dari wanted the statement to condemn the wrongdoings of the former and current Iraqi governments.

Al-Dari represents a strong anti-American and anti-government line at the conference, arguing that the fighting against the US-led military presence in Iraqi was a legitimate response to US occupation. He accused Iraqi forces of adopting
US practices such as torture and mass arrests.

Al-Dari (2nd L) said the AMS
will respect the final statement 

"We have reservations about the final statements and the phrases which were added to it in the last minute. However, we will respect and commit to the final statement's articles," he told reporters.

Moussa succeeded in preparing the first meeting between al-Dari and Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Details of the meeting remained unrevealed.

Arguable value

Armed anti-US groups did not take part in the Cairo meeting. The Iraqi government refuses to deal with anyone who attacks civilians or whom they suspect of seeking to restore Baathist rule.

The most contentious part of the agreement was its treatment of "resistance" - seen by some Iraqis as a just struggle against invaders, by others as futile fanaticism.

The compromise formula said: "Although resistance is a legitimate right of all peoples, terrorism however does not represent legitimate resistance, so we condemn terrorism and acts of violence, murder and kidnapping."

The Arab League, alarmed that Iraq is sliding towards chaos and civil war, called the politicians to prepare for a broader political meeting in Baghdad next February or March after legislative elections in December.

Fawzi al-Hariri, a Kurdish representative and Iraqi Foreign Ministry official, played down the language on resistance. "The agreement is as it is stated in the UN Charter, which says that every nation has the right to resist," he told Reuters.

"We do not believe there is a resistance because they lack any political ideology or strategy or aim," he said.

"If they exist, then we will be ready and interested to talk to them and hear their grievances, with the exception of the takfiris (religious extremists) who were imported into Iraq and those Baathists who have no other aim than reinstating the former Iraq," he said.

Earlier on Monday, delegates said the dispute over policy towards those fighting US-led forces in Iraq almost brought the conference to collapse.