Al-Maliki is trying to hold Cabinet

He refuses to accept 6 Sunni resignations

violence claims the lives of 4 U.S. soldiers

August 06, 2007|By Alexandra Zavis | Alexandra Zavis,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to accept the resignations of six Cabinet members yesterday, keeping the door open for a possible return of Sunni ministers whose departure last week caused a crisis in his unity government.

Members of the Sunni bloc known as the Iraqi Accordance Front, or Tawafiq, said al-Maliki's action would not affect their decision. But a senior member held out the possibility that a resolution could be reached at an upcoming summit of leaders of Iraq's main ethnic and religious blocs.

A top U.S. commander, meanwhile, said rogue Shiite militiamen with Iranian weapons and training launched three-quarters of the attacks that killed or wounded American forces last month in Baghdad, stepping into the void left as Sunni insurgents have been dislodged.

Attacks against U.S. forces were down sharply last month nationwide, and military officials have expressed cautious optimism that a security crackdown is working. At the same time, the number of attacks launched by breakaway factions of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia has increased, said Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. second in command.

He did not provide a total number of militia attacks. But he said 73 percent of the attacks that wounded or killed U.S. troops last month in Baghdad were launched by Shiite militiamen, nearly double the figure six months earlier.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he believed the troop buildup completed in June was beginning to improve security, but he blamed Iraqi politicians for failing to pass legislation aimed at reconciliation.

He expressed disappointment over the Sunni withdrawal from the Cabinet, as well as parliament's decision to take the month of August off. He told NBC's Meet the Press that he had urged the country's presidency council, which consists of its president and two vice presidents, not to follow parliament's example.

His message, he said, was blunt: "For every day that we buy you, we're buying it with American blood, and the idea of you going on vacation is unacceptable."

U.S. officials, under pressure to show progress in a report to be delivered in Congress on Sept. 15, had hoped that giving Iraq's Sunni Arab minority a stake in the government would foster reconciliation with the majority Shiite Muslims.

President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd who has been leading efforts to save the unity government, said al-Maliki had informed him of his decision to reject the resignations during a meeting yesterday that included Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi, a Shiite.

Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali Zubaie and five other Sunni ministers withdrew from the Cabinet on Wednesday.

Sunni Vice President Tariq Hashimi did not resign. The only other Sunni who remains in the government is the defense minister, who does not belong to Tawafiq.

Al-Maliki said yesterday that he hoped the Sunnis would reconsider and promised to act quickly on those demands that were "legitimate and logical," Talabani told reporters.

Iyad Samarrai, secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a leading member of Tawafiq, expressed hope that progress could be made at the promised summit between al-Maliki, Talabani, Hashemi, Abdul Mahdi, and Massoud Barzani, head of Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region. No date has been set for the summit.

In violence yesterday, a mortar barrage in southeast Baghdad killed at least 13 people and injured 17, police said.

Police in Baghdad also recovered the bodies of 18 people shot execution style.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, announced the deaths of four soldiers.

Alexandra Zavis writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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