Sunni bloc pulls out of Cabinet

August 02, 2007|By Ned Parker | Ned Parker,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's main Sunni Arab political bloc withdrew from the government yesterday, blaming Shiite Muslim leaders for not addressing sectarian issues, as explosions in the streets killed at least 69 people in the capital.

Six Cabinet members from the Iraqi Accordance Front, Tawafiq in Arabic, had suspended participation in the government in June before the coalition announced that it was pulling out permanently. The Sunni bloc took the action after its demands for the release of Sunni detainees and to address Shiite militias were not met.

The pullout reduces Iraq's Shiite-dominated government to little more than caretaker status. Barring a major political realignment, it also makes it less likely that Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki's government will be able to reach significant compromises on legislative benchmarks sought by the Bush administration to help quell sectarian strife.

Tawafiq member Tariq Hashimi retains his post as one of Iraq's vice presidents.

The move cast the gravest doubt yet to al-Maliki's staying on as prime minister. His government has been burdened for months by talk of conspiracies, most prominently featuring former premier Ayad Allawi.

Scenarios included tapping al-Maliki's predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, also from the Shiite fundamentalist Dawa party. Al-Jaafari recently traveled to Kurdistan in an apparent attempt to get support there.

A Kurdish official said in June that al-Jaafari was now preferable to al-Maliki, despite al-Jaafari having been vetoed for a second term last year because of his unpopularity among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

The prospect of Shiite Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi being tapped for al-Maliki's job also has surfaced. At least one plan has been submitted by Iraqi political leaders to the U.S. Embassy as an alternative government to al- Maliki's.

"The bottom line is the country is on the brink right now," said a Sunni official in the government on the condition of anonymity.

The pullout marked an end to the rocky cohabitation that began a year ago with the unveiling of the U.S.-brokered national unity government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. After a flurry of early activity, including a reconciliation plan announced in the government's second month, al-Maliki's Cabinet lost momentum.

The government made little progress in promoting stability, as Sunni and Shiite militant groups battled for Baghdad in 2006, displacing tens of thousands.

The arrival of additional U.S. troops in February at the start of their offensive to end the capital's spiraling violence has mitigated the violence in some areas but has had little apparent effect on the political process.

Despite efforts to improve the security situation, relations seemed to deteriorate between al-Maliki and Hashimi. An argument erupted between them in which al-Maliki said he could not work with his vice president. Days later, Tawafiq issued its ultimatum, said Haidar Abadi, a lawmaker and adviser to al-Maliki.

Abadi warned that Tawafiq was trying to provoke a crisis to impose a new power-sharing system on the country, where Shiite, Sunni and Kurds are equal partners in the decision-making process.

"We have to respect the interests of everybody, but the country cannot be run as a troika," Abadi said. "They want to send a message to Washington. They are going to use every minor incident."

The Sunni bloc said it would continue negotiating with the majority Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, to try to resolve the crisis. The Sunni bloc retains its 44 seats in parliament, which recessed Monday without acting on key legislation.

"The Front will still be active in the political process and wishes to rehabilitate it and to correct its way to get rid of sectarian and ethnic divisions," the bloc said in a statement.

Publicly, Sunni officials pledged to carry on a dialogue with the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance; meanwhile, Hadi Amri, the head of the Badr Corps, a Shiite militia, said his faction was ready to pressure al-Maliki to compromise.

"We as the UIA will exert pressure on the prime minister and even on the government to fulfill these issues," Amri told Al-Arabiya television.

Al-Maliki's Cabinet now lacks 12 of its 37 full-time ministers. In the spring, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc quit the Cabinet, too.

Meanwhile, a series of explosions rocked Baghdad, killing dozens of people.

A car bomb in the predominantly Shiite Karada district in Baghdad killed 15 people near an ice cream shop; an additional 50 died when a suicide bomber detonated a fuel tanker in the western Mansour district, four others were killed in a car bombing in Harthiya, not far from Mansour. A policeman also was killed in a bomb attack in Mansour.

Twenty-five corpses were found around the city.

The U.S. military also announced the deaths of six soldiers in Baghdad, three from a roadside bomb blast, two from mortars or rockets and another by small-arms fire.

A British soldier also was killed by a bomb, the British military said.

Ned Parker writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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