By Amit R. Paley and K.I. Ibrahim
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 2, 2006
BAGHDAD, Oct. 1 -- The political bloc of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demanded a shake-up of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's cabinet on Sunday, the latest challenge to the country's increasingly beleaguered unity government.
"Some of those who are in this government have direct or indirect relationships with terrorists," said Bahaa al-Araji, a senior legislator with Sadr's Shiite Muslim party. "The democracy that the occupation brought to Iraq is being exploited by the Sunni insurgents and the terrorists to kill our sons and our men."
Araji's remarks appeared aimed at Adnan al-Dulaimi, the leader of the largest Sunni Arab coalition in parliament, whose bodyguard was arrested Friday on suspicion of planning suicide bombings inside the fortified Green Zone.
The demands of the Sadr movement -- a major bloc in the United Iraqi Alliance, the dominant Shiite coalition that has 130 seats in the 275-member parliament -- exposed deep rifts in the government, as well as mounting frustration with its perceived failure to stanch the horrific sectarian bloodshed here.
Senior U.S. military commanders have questioned whether Maliki has the political will to root out corruption and tackle the militias and death squads wreaking havoc across the country. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said in an interview Friday that Maliki was running out of time to address the problem.
Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for Maliki's government, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Dulaimi has denied that his bodyguard is connected to terrorists, and on Sunday other Sunni legislators denounced Araji for making "hysterical statements."
"They accuse the Sunnis of being insurgents, Baathists and Saddamists, but if we check the records of the majority of those politicians, we will find that they have ties to the former regime," said Hussein al-Falluji, a Sunni member of parliament.
Falluji also suggested that tensions within the Shiite government -- over Maliki's efforts, unsuccessful so far, to disarm militias controlled by Sadr and other Shiite groups -- are causing politicians to lash out at Sunnis. "They are trying to transfer their problems to us," he said.
Sadr officials in recent days have stepped up their criticisms of Maliki's government. In a sermon on Friday in the city of Kufa, Sheik Mouyed Khazrajy, a member of the Sadr movement, called on the prime minister to move swiftly to reduce sectarian tensions.
"Our patience has limits," he said.
"The hands with which we fought the tyrants are still on the triggers, and the weapons we fought with, which placed you on the prime minister's chair, are still full of gunpowder," Khazrajy said. "We are ready to give you and your masters a lesson in defiance and steadfastness. . . . What has held us back, as the leader has said, is neither humiliation nor ignominy, but feelings of brotherhood and love for the country."
Violence continued to convulse Iraq on Sunday. Twenty-three people were killed and 21 bodies were discovered in incidents across the country, the Associated Press reported.
The U.S. military also announced that two soldiers assigned to the 13th Sustainment Command were killed Saturday during combat in Anbar province, the volatile Sunni insurgent stronghold in western Iraq.
Special correspondents Saad Sarhan in Najaf and Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad contributed to this report.