From the minarets of Baghdad, Sunni muezzins on Saturday issued their five-times-a-day call to prayer, but added: "Remain where you are to say your prayers" as the mosques remained closed to protest at recent unexplained murders of civilians and clerics that some Sunni Arab leaders have blamed on a Shia militia with links to the government.

  

About 1000 Sunni Arab figures - clerics, officials and notables - gathered in Baghdad in a show of unity to stand up for their community, which was dominant under Saddam Hussein.

  

Sunni Arabs have accused the Badr Organisation, linked to one of the dominant parties in the Shia-led government coalition, of the recent killing of dozens of Sunnis, including three imams.

  

Sunni fears

   

In the latest violence, Iraqi soldiers on Saturday shot and killed two men acting suspiciously near a checkpoint on the southern outskirts of Baghdad.

Sunni Arabs blame the Badr
Organisation for recent killings

  

Three civilians, their bodies riddled with bullets, were found in an orchard near Latifiya, an area south of the capital where kidnappings and killings have been rife, security officials said.

 

Armed groups are playing on these fears to increase sectarian friction in an effort to destabilize the new government, US officials said.

 

Saddam pictures  

 

Meanwhile, ordinary Iraqis reacted with puzzlement or anger at the publication of the pictures of Saddam in his underpants in his prison cell, and one showing Saddam washing his clothes in a bucket in his cell.

   

Speaking in Baghdad, Muhammad Hasan Fadhl, a Sunni cleric, described the pictures as "humiliating", adding that their publication "was a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which call for respecting prisoners and treating them with dignity".

  

The US military says it will look
into the Saddam pictures issue

"There are limits that should not be overstepped whoever the person and whatever his past," Muhammad Ali Mashhadani, another Sunni cleric, told AFP.

  

"I'm very sorry to see this. He's a Muslim after all," said a 50-year-old woman, who gave her name as Um Jasim.

  

"But he deserves much worse than this," she said on reflection.

  

"He gave nothing to the people. My son left Saddam's army with just 50,000 dinars (about $35) and now has no job and cannot marry," she added.

  

The US military said it would investigate how the pictures had been obtained by the Sun, which first splashed them on its front page on Friday.

 

Saddam's trial  

 

Saddam Hussein, captured in late 2003 by US troops, could go on trial in a matter of months, Iraq's planning minister said on a visit to Washington on Friday.

  

Meanwhile, another of Saddam's lawyers, Giovanni di Stefano, in an interview with CNN television, complained that, 19 months after his arrest, his client had still not been charged.

  

"This man must be properly charged, must be properly indicted, and everything has to be done properly in accordance with international law.

  

"If we want to preach democracy and the gospel according to democracy in other countries, we've got to start with doing things properly," he said.

  

Saddam faces probable charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes related to his clampdown on Iraq's Shia majorityand Kurds and his wars against Iran and Kuwait.