Some of Iraq's top religious leaders gather in Copenhagen this week for a three-day closed-door summit to try to end the sectarian violence that has recently struck the country's Christian community.

Eight of Iraq's 'most influential' Muslim and Christian religious leaders are due to take part, according to the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME).

Together with Denmark's foreign ministry, the Foundation organised the high-level crisis meeting.

The identities of the participants have been kept secret for their own safety.

'Negotiations will be difficult and delicate,' cautioned FRRME head Andrew White, who is the vicar of St George's Church in Baghdad.

'These men have significant enmity towards each other yet they are willing to meet,' he said in a statement.

'If they can work together they have the power to bring peace. If not, the situation in Iraq will only get worse.'

The meeting of the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq (HCRLI), which was founded by the Foundation, will involve religious leaders representing Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Sadrists and Christians.

The summit will be closed to the media to try to preserve 'the serenity and the confidentiality of the discussions,' organisation committee member Steven Jensen told AFP.

A single press conference is scheduled in Copenhagen at the end of the conference on Friday afternoon.

Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen said last week she had taken the initiative for the conference in a bid 'to promote dialogue between religious groups in Iraq,' following recent attacks on the Christian minority there.

In the worst such attack, militants stormed a church in central Baghdad on 31 October, leaving 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security force personnel dead. Al-Qaeda's local affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility for the assault.

'We harshly condemn' such attacks, said Espersen, insisting that the violence could be avoided through dialogue.

'Religious leaders have an essential moral responsibility to ensure that their religion is not exploited to incite violence,' she added.

The 31 October massacre, one of the bloodiest ever against Iraq's Christian community, has prompted many Christians to flee into exile in Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Iraq's Christian population is today estimated at around 500,000 people, down from between 800,000 and 1.2m before the US invasion in 2003.

But Christians are not the only victims of sectarian violence, stresses the Foundation.

'Yazidis (Shia Kurds), Mandeans and other minority groups have also been persecuted,' it said.

The meeting will be held in Copenhagen because it would be too risky to hold it in Iraq, said the organisers. Even in the Danish capital, security would be high.

Copenhagen Bishop Peter Skov-Jensen will host the meeting.

'All Christians are worried about the terrible conditions that our religious brethren and other religious minorities have faced in Iraq and across the Middle East, as we witnessed most recently in Alexandria,' he said.

Twenty-one Coptic Christians were killed in an attack on a church in the northern Egyptian city on 31 December.

In 2008, a similar meeting, also organised by Denmark and the HCRLI, resulted in the Copenhagen Accord, which opened the way for the first-ever joint Sunni-Shia Fatwa in Iraq.

The Fatwa, or Islamic religious decree, condemned violence and terrorism, and recognised the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.