Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Iraqi prime minister, has warned clerics not to use inflammatory language from pulpits on Friday as he tried to rally Sunni and other leaders into a US-sponsored unity coalition to help staunch 10 days of sectarian bloodshed.
The main minority Sunni bloc ended a boycott of talks called in protest at reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques after the bombing of a Shia shrine on 22 February. Violence has killed at least 500 people, even by conservative official accounts.
But after al-Jaafari hosted a late-night meeting on Thursday of the main parties elected to parliament in December, political sources said Sunnis, Kurds and other leaders were still pushing the dominant Shia Alliance to ditch al-Jaafari as premier.
A senior official in the Sunnis' Iraqi Accordance Front said: "The negotiations will go on, but we still insist on removing al-Jaafari."
Plea to clerics
Critics accuse al-Jaafari, a doctor, of being ineffectual in combating violence and economic collapse in his year in power as interim prime minister. Some, including US officials, look askance at his ties to Iran.
Al-Jaafari: Clerics must express
themselvs in the language of unity
He narrowly won the backing of his Shia Alliance coalition to lead the new government with the crucial support of the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. As the biggest group in parliament, the Alliance nominates the prime minister.
Al-Jaafari made a late-night appearance on state television to urge religious leaders to defuse sectarian passions from the pulpit. "The clerics of Friday must express themselves in the language of national unity," he said.
"We will take firm action against inflammatory rhetoric."
Traffic was banned in Baghdad, but people will be able to walk to weekly prayers, officials said - similar to a three-day curfew last weekend that helped reduce violence.
Al-Jaafari has ordered thousands of troops and police onto the streets of Baghdad, backed by US soldiers, but their effectiveness is untested and their loyalties are uncertain in the face of sectarian militias to which some once belonged.
An Iraqi soldier takes position at
a closed shop in Baghdad
Fearful of reprisal attacks, some Baghdad residents have thrown up barricades. Others are leaving their homes.