The US would like Arab Gulf states to play a prominent role in helping Iraq’s political parties shape the structure and programme of a new Iraqi government, Robert Zoellick, deputy secretary of state, said on Saturday.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Zoellick said he wanted the Arab world “including some of the Gulf states” to engage with the Iraqi political process. He said it was essential that “external participants help emphasise key steps that have to be taken.”

Meanwhile Amre Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, said it would convene a “grand conference” in Baghdad as early as February or March in a bid to draw all Iraqis, including the disaffected Sunnis who form the core of the Iraqi insurgency, deeper into the political process.

Ahmed Chalabi, the outgoing deputy prime minister and one of the architects of the de-Ba’athification process which removed former members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling party from senior positions and enraged the Sunni community, said “now it is time to move on”, noting that the Iraqi constitution allowed the new government to modify or scrap the policy altogether.

Barham Salih, a leading Kurdish politician and planning minister in the outgoing government, said the Kurdish Alliance had taken a strategic decision not to form an exclusive alliance with the Shia parties. It would insist on a government of national unity that would include at least one party representing the Sunni and the secular group led by former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi.

He said there would be no peace until Iraq had a government and institutions that represented all Iraqis.

Hamam Hammoudi, a Shia cleric who wrote Iraq’s constitution, recognised the need to meet Sunni concerns by chosing interior and defence ministers who would not follow a sectarian agenda.

But even Mr Salih, a US ally, warned that the US must not use Iraq as a base for any confrontation with Iran over the Iranian nuclear programme.

“We do not want our country to be used as a possible staging post for conflict with any of our neighbours, including Iran.”

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