BAGHDAD(AP)- A group of Sunni Muslim clerics and politicians urged fellow Sunnis on Thursday to take part in the coming elections, saying it is in their interest if they want to play a bigger political role in the future.
Many Sunnis boycotted the January ballot. The call came after a meeting by the General Conference of Sunnis that discussed plans for the Dec. 15 general elections, the drafting of the country”s new constitution and reports of detentions and killings of Sunnis by Shiite-led security forces.
The clerical Association of Muslim Scholars did not participate in the conference although some of its members were present. The group opposes participating in the elections as long as there is no timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraq.
Still the association said it would not try to prevent Sunnis from voting or running for office.
The Iraqi Islamic Party, the country”s largest Sunni political group, participated in Thursday”s meeting.
"We see that it is in our interest to prepare for participating in the coming elections," the Sunni clerics said after the Thursday meeting. "We urge Iraqis to register their names at elections centers."
Most members of the minority Sunni Arab community, which forms the core of the anti-American insurgency, boycotted the country”s landmark Jan. 30 elections, either fearing insurgent attacks or heeding boycott calls by rebels and hard-line clerics. That helped Shiites and Kurds win control of the new government.
"The future of the Sunnis hinges on the coming elections and if we don”t exert our efforts to urge Sunnis to take part in the vote we will never stand on our feet again," said Sheik Ibrahim al-Niaama of the northern city of Mosul.
Adnan al-Dulaimi, spokesman for the conference and head of the state-run Sunni Endowment, called on mosque preachers to urge people from their pulpits to vote.
"We will work on having a fatwa issued," he told The Associated Press, referring to a binding religious edict.
With so many Sunnis boycotting the January ballot, only 17 members of the sect made it into the 275-member parliament.
The conference also warned against a new constitution that does not respect Iraq”s Arab and Islamic identity. "Any attempt to pass a constitution in a way that contradicts the Islamic and national constants of the Iraqi people will be null and rejected," the statement said.
Earlier this month, 15 Sunnis joined a parliamentary committee drafting a new constitution, which must be finished by Aug. 15. Two of Sunnis have already quit after receiving threats, presumably from insurgents.
The conference called security forces to "release all innocent detainees and to form a committee to investigate the cases of killings and mutilation against our sons."
On Wednesday, Sunni groups accused Iraqi security forces of detaining, torturing and killing 11 Sunni Arab men, including a cleric.
Sunni groups also accused security forces of allowing at least nine Sunnis detained last weekend to suffocate after locking them for hours in a van without ventilation as temperatures soared to 115 degrees.
The Interior Ministry said it was investigating the case.