"Saudi officials have voiced their keenness that Iraq should remain united and their support for the Iraqi people's efforts to form an elected government," Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, a cleric, said.

Bahr al-Ulum and his team, who arrived in Riyadh earlier this week, also met Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud on Saturday.

The two sides exchanged views on the situation along the Saudi-Iraqi border and the "situation of Sunni Muslims in Iraq", sources in the Iraqi delegation said.

Saud al-Faisal also stressed Saudi Arabia "would be the main loser" from an eventual partition of Iraq.

The Sunnis in Iraq are feeling increasingly marginalised under the US-led order that has been taking shape since US and British forces ousted Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, last April.

The visit of the Iraqi delegation, which also includes the Shia interim minister of labour and social affairs, Sami Azara al-Maajun, comes while the country has been opening up to its Shia minority, as part of moves towards limited reforms, spearheaded by Crown Prince Abd Allah.

POW status flayed

Meanwhile, Bahr al-Ulum strongly criticised the US decision to grant Saddam prisoner of war status, saying this might block an Iraqi trial of the ousted president and enable him to escape the death penalty.

The US move amounts to "a dangerous plot against the Iraqi people", he charged.

The US-led coalition had previously told the governing council Saddam's trial was an Iraqi affair and the US government recognised this, Bahr al-Ulum said.