Dr Muhammad Ayash al-Kubaisi told Aljazeera.net on Tuesday Iraq lacked the potential for free and honest elections while the occupation continues.

"How can a country with no sovereignty and no legitimate government hold free elections" he said, "Our top priority is to have our homeland free from any foreign military existence, after that there are mechanisms to achieve democracy. Initially we in the Association of Muslim Scholars believe in consulting the Iraqi people on every Iraqi issue."

Responding to a question on whether a US pullout from Iraq would lead to a civil war, al Kubaisi said "I wonder why the Americans are promoting such an idea", "If they are really after the democracy and prosperity of the Iraqi people, why are they putting us between two difficult choices - occupation or civil war!"

"Everybody knows that Iraq has always been a diverse country in terms of ethnicities, religion, and sects and there has never been civil war, so why should it happen now?" al- Kubaisi said. 

Iraqis queue to fill their plastic
cans with kerosene

US has own agenda

Dr Dhafir al-Ani, an Iraqi political analyst and ex-professor of Politics at the University of Baghdad said, "the US occupation authorities and pro-US Iraqis have their own agenda."

"When they needed Ayat Allah Ali Sistani they introduced him as an influential player in decision making in Iraq, but when he calls for something that does not match their agenda the IGC members appear to say that he is just a religious authority and lacking in political experience," he said.

Basic needs

Inside Iraq, security, jobs, and basic needs have become the main concern of most Iraqis. Although they sit on the world’s second largest oil reserves, Iraqis face difficulties getting petrol they need for their cars and domestic heating.

"We have to spend hours everyday, standing in boring queues to get part of the fuel we need" Ayad al-Dulaimi, a shop owner in Baghdad, told Aljazeera.net, "currently, we are not interested in discussing political affairs, we really need to feel safe in our homes".

Paul Bremer, the US civilian administrator of Iraq has rebuffed a call from the Iraqi Shia Muslim cleric, Ayat Allah Ali Sistani, for early direct elections that many observers say would give power to the country's Muslim Shia community.