By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 30, 2007
BAGHDAD, June 29 -- Members of the leading Sunni coalition in the Iraqi government said Friday that six of its ministers would withdraw from the Cabinet because of criminal accusations against one minister and their sense of alienation within the Shiite-dominated government.
The decision by the Iraqi Accordance Front is a blow to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose administration has been weakened in recent weeks by tensions among rival Shiite blocs and the threatened resignation of Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. The lack of progress on important legislation, coupled with the failure to reconcile with minority Sunnis, ranks among the greatest obstacles to stability in Iraq.
Ministers from the Accordance Front will not participate in the government until a committee is formed to investigate the charges against Culture Minister Asad Kamal al-Hashimi, and until there is reform of the detainee system in which thousands of people are held for extended periods without trial, said Alaa Makki, a senior legislator in the coalition.
"We represent an important component of the Iraqi people and we are feeling, inside the government, that we are severely marginalized, we are not respected," Makki said.
The Accordance Front last week suspended its participation in parliament to protest the dismissal of Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who is also a Sunni.
Earlier this year, the six cabinet members loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr withdrew over the lack of a timetable for the departure of U.S. troops, and the justice minister resigned, meaning that 13 of 34 cabinet positions are now unfilled.
"The withdrawal is not a positive stance," Hassan Soneid, a Shiite lawmaker close to Maliki, said on al-Sharqiyah television, referring to the Accordance Front. "There are laws that will be discussed in parliament" even with its ministers absent, he said.
Those boycotting the government include Deputy Prime Minister Salam Z. al-Zobaee; ministers of culture, higher education, and planning; and state ministers for foreign affairs and women's affairs, said Makki. The Sunni officials were angered by the arrest warrant for Hashimi, who is accused of ordering the assassination of Mithal al-Alusi, an independent parliament member who endured harsh criticism after he visited Israel in 2004. Alusi, a secular Sunni, survived the February 2005 attempt on his life, but two of his sons and a bodyguard were killed.
The political upheaval on the Sunni side came shortly after Shiite politicians from rival parties said they had agreed to work together more closely to energize the lagging government. The agreement, first reported in the New York Times, between Maliki's Dawa party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council led by cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, "aims to give the government momentum, because we realize it suffers from slowness at various levels," said Hameed Muallah, a legislator with the Supreme Council.
The political wrangling surfaced on a day the U.S. military said a coordinated attack in southern Baghdad had killed five U.S. soldiers and wounded seven others. The deaths raise the number of U.S. fatalities in June to 100, according to the independent Web site iCasualties.org.
The soldiers were on patrol Thursday when a "deep-buried" roadside bomb exploded near them, Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., the commander who oversees Baghdad, told reporters. Insurgents quickly followed with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
The attack was an ominous sign of the growing capabilities of the insurgents fighting U.S. soldiers.
"It was a very violent attack, and we thought it did show a level of sophistication that we have not often seen so far in this campaign," Fil said.
The attack pushed the number of U.S. deaths to 100 or more for the third straight month, the deadliest three-month period of the Iraq war for U.S. soldiers, according to iCasualties.org.
The announcement of the attack came on a day when Shiite cleric Sadr canceled a march planned for next week to protest the bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra, defusing increasing concern that the march could turn bloody. The day before, the Iraqi government asked that the march be delayed because the route was unsafe.
Asaad al-Nassery, a leading cleric and follower of Sadr, said at his Friday sermon in Kufa that Sadr decided to cancel the demonstration, planned for Thursday, because the Iraqi government cannot provide security for the visitors.
Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim and Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.