During al-Yawir's visit to AMS headquarters on Sunday, its Secretary-General Shaikh Harith al-Dari said the association would continue to give priority to the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

 

The AMS had called for a Sunni boycott of the 30 January elections on similar grounds.

 

However, al-Dari said his association would not refrain from providing advice to all parties, if asked.

 

AMS spokesman Muhammad Ayash al-Kubaisi said the political process in Iraq was a US project and not one designed by Iraqi aims, and Iraqis should not join it.

 

"We have seen how US officials were so adamant to hold the last elections, they were far more passionate than Iraqis themselves What does that tell us?" he said.

 

"President Bush himself has said that Syrian troops must withdraw from Lebanon before the Lebanese elections, and said there is no point for elections in Lebanon while foreign troops exist on its national soil. Why does that not apply to Iraq?"

 

The AMS urged Iraqis to boycott
the January elections

AMS criticised

 

Some Iraqi analysts prefer that the AMS stay out of the country's political process, and remain a leading religious body.

 

Dhafir al-Ani, an Iraqi political analyst at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, says he does not support the involvement of religious bodies in politics.

 

"The AMS can do a lot as a respectable Muslim body. Iraqis need the guidance of such bodies, but I really think that they (the AMS) should stay away from politics.

 

"We know that the AMS did not present itself as a political body, but it does have interaction with Sunni Muslim politicians," he said.

 

Al-Ani believes that the AMS position to refrain completely from engaging in the political process is likely change as national elections approach.

 

"Iraqi Muslim Sunnis cannot afford to stay out of decision-making in their own country," he said, referring to the Sunni boycott of the 30 January elections.