"The clerics call on honorable Iraqis to boycott the upcoming election that is to be held over the bodies of the dead and the blood of the wounded in cities like Falluja," said Harith al-Dhari, director of the Muslim Scholars Association, a group of Sunni clerics that says it represents 3,000 mosques.
Hours earlier, the group issued a religious edict ordering Iraqi security forces not to take part in the siege. Of course, there is always a chance that clerics could rescind their call for a boycott, but the group has until now been fairly uncompromising in its dealings with the Americans and the interim Iraqi government.
Just as ominous was the withdrawal of the Iraqi Islamic Party from the interim government. The party was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council set up by the Americans during the occupation and has been held up by American and Iraqi officials as a model of Sunni participation in the political future of the country. In recent weeks, its leader, Mohsen Abdul Hameed, had been saying he intended to take part in the elections.
"After the attack on Falluja, we decided to withdraw from the government because our presence in the government will be judged by history," Mr. Abdul Hameed, an interim National Assembly member, said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
The move so alarmed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi that he met privately with Mr. Abdul Hameed hours later. But the party stuck to its position, and an aide said in the afternoon that it was not clear that the group would take part in the elections.
"We haven't decided to withdraw from the elections; we're still going forward with the process," the aide, Ayad al-Samarrai, said. "But it will all depend on the general situation in Iraq."See also Juan Cole for more on the Iraqi political reaction to the current military operation in Falluja.