"We want to set up a general Sunni conference" comprising representatives from parties, tribes, unions, associations and provincial officials, said Shaikh Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur al-Samarrai during his sermon at Baghdad's Umm al-Qura mosque on Friday.

  

"This conference will not replace the various parties and associations but will be the link among all Sunnis," explained al-Samarrai, a senior member of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS).

  

The clerical organisation represents about 3000 mosques across the country and has taken the lead in the search for a common Sunni stance after elections, widely boycotted by Sunnis, which are expected to see the majority Shia and the Kurds come to power.

 

Main goal

  

"We want to close ranks and extend a brotherly hand to all Iraqis," he said, adding that the main goal of the proposed organisation would be to "work towards freeing Iraq of foreign occupation through political channels".

  

"We want to close ranks and extend a brotherly hand to all Iraqis"

Shaikh al-Samarrai

Sunni participation in the 30 January vote was low, due to boycott calls, threat of violence or disaffection with the political process among a community struggling to come to terms with the loss of power.

 

Although the non-Kurdish Sunni community will be poorly represented in the National Assembly that is to draft the country's permanent constitution, all agree that its participation in the next political phase is crucial.

  

Government and UN officials have been meeting with various key Sunni figures in recent days in the hope of getting them involved in the political process.