Al-Dulaimi, the head of the Iraq Accordance Front, the main Sunni bloc in the next parliament, said: "Mosques and houses are empty because clerics and ordinary men are being chased as if there was a sectarian cleansing in Baghdad.

 

"Violence only breeds more violence. I demand that this sectarian sedition be stopped."

 

Al-Dulaimi was speaking on Sunday as attacks killed at least 17 people, including 13 policemen and soldiers.

 

Sunday also saw the resumption of the trial of Saddam Hussein. Saddam and his seven co-defendants are accused of involvement in the killings of more than 140 Shia Muslims.

 

Key ministries

Al-Dulaimi went on to say he opposed various key ministries in the new government going to the Shia bloc.

"We believe that the posts of the interior and defence ministers should be kept away from any sectarian and political considerations," he said.

"We believe that the posts of the interior and defence ministers should be kept away from any sectarian and political considerations"

Adnan al-Dulaimi, 
Iraq Accordance Front

The Sunni stance sets the stage for a battle with Shia figures over who will win the portfolios. On Saturday, the head of the Badr Brigades, a Shia militia, said Shia religious parties would "never surrender" those ministries.

Hadi al-Amri, head of the militia which is the military arm of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Republic in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shia group which enjoys Iranian backing, said: "We are subjected to a daily slaughter. We will not relinquish security portfolios."

Control of the two ministries is expected to be one of the biggest obstacles to forming a new government with greater Sunni Arab representation, a key US goal as the talks get under way after last month's election.

Iranian backing

Sunni Arab politicians have insisted that the two ministries not go to people associated with the Shia religious bloc, comprising SCIRI and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's al-Dawa party, which also enjoys substantial Iranian support.

SCIRI and al-Dawa won the biggest number of seats in the 15 December election.

Al-Dulaimi urged the outgoing Shia-led government and US forces to ease pressure on Sunni Arabs amid a series of house raids and arrests that have seen scores detained in recent days.

"When the next government is formed, we will try to end such problems, but we are afraid that the people's patience will run out and the country subsequently will slip into turmoil and disaster."