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CHICAGO (AP) — National Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders met Wednesday to discuss the humanitarian and spiritual costs of war, a day before President Bush was expected to declare that major combat in Iraq is finished.

The 80 religious leaders issued a statement calling for the United States to relinquish sole control over the rebuilding of Iraq, and empower the United Nations and other organizations to work with the Iraqi people.

The goal of the leaders, most of whom opposed the war, was to try to influence what happens in Iraq now. But they also discussed at a news conference whether their anti-war stance had diminished their influence. The summit was called by the National Council of Churches USA, Islamic Society of North America and Religious Action Center of Reformed Judaism.

"I don't think we were weakened," said Sayyid M. Syeed, the Islamic Society's secretary general. "I think we can still be of influence in bringing people back together."

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center, said religious leaders were at the heart of the debate that influenced military strategies that minimized civilian casualties. Saperstein's group supported the war as morally justified.

Many at the summit said there is nothing new about religious leaders taking unpopular positions, saying the clergy has a long history of being at the forefront of unpopular causes, including civil rights.

Steven Jacobs, a Los Angeles-area rabbi, said members of his congregation who disagreed with his anti-war position are now raising questions of their own.

"I have seen more people beginning to doubt what our leaders are telling them," he said. "They're starting to wonder if they were lied to."

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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