Major American Muslim organizations on Friday called for the resignation of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, free elections in Iraq and an end to U.S. plans to attack that Arab nation.
The American Muslim Political Coordination Council, an umbrella organization for four major U.S. Islamic groups, said in a statement that Hussein's resignation would "save the Iraqi people from further suffering and despair" and "clear the image of Islam, a religion incompatible with dictatorship ...."
At the same time, the council urged President Bush to end plans to attack Iraq. The council said a U.S.-led war would destabilize the region, radicalize youth in Iraq and neighboring countries, build support for Osama bin Laden, cause the loss of innocent Iraqi lives and endanger U.S. troops "for no convincing reason."
The United States is mobilizing tens of thousands of troops in the Persian Gulf to back up its threat to attack Iraq if Baghdad does not cooperate with United Nations inspectors seeking weapons of mass destruction.
Omar Ahmed, board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said many Muslims are unconvinced that Hussein's alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction or his egregious record on human rights is justification for war.
"There are a lot of bad leaders in the world and there are other countries with weapons of mass destruction," Ahmed said. "Should we make a list of all of them and invade them?"
He also said many Muslims believe the Iraqi people themselves should make the decision about their leadership, not foreign outside forces.
But he and others said the Muslim council sees Hussein's resignation as a way to avoid a disastrous war.
"We want to avoid war at all costs, and since Saddam Hussein is mentioned as a prime motivation for war, the world would be better off without him," said Faiz Rehman of the American Muslim Council, based in Washington, D.C., which initiated the statement.
At its annual convention last month, the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles urged Hussein to step down and Bush to call off war plans.
The unified statement represents the first time major American Muslim organizations have joined together to press for the removal of an Islamic head of state.
The umbrella organization is comprised of the American Muslim Alliance, which aims to increase Muslim involvement in electoral politics; the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which focuses on civil rights and media relations; the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a policy-oriented organization; and the American Muslim Council, a political advocacy group.
In the past, the council has taken unified positions on such issues as Palestine. In 2000, the group endorsed Bush in what was billed as the first unified Muslim endorsement of a presidential candidate.