Sunnis Suspend Iraqi Cabinet Membership

By STEVEN R. HURST
The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 25, 2007; 2:58 PM

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's largest bloc of Sunni politicians suspended membership in the government Wednesday, a bid that appeared timed to deepen disenchantment in Washington with the Shiite prime minister's faltering leadership.

The dramatic political development came as two suicide car bombers killed at least 50 soccer fans celebrating Iraq's ascension to the finals of a prestigious tournament. A total of 88 people were killed or found dead nationwide, according to police, morgue and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to release information.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, which has six Cabinet seats and 44 of 275 in parliament, gave Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a week to meet its demands or see ministers quit the 14-month-old government.

The suspension was only the latest challenge to al-Maliki's dwindling ability to govern the country and promote national reconciliation.

In April, five ministers loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr quit the government over al-Maliki's refusal to set a timeline for American forces to leave Iraq. Should the Accordance Front ministers quit, al-Maliki's so-called national unity government would be limping along with more than a fourth of the 38 Cabinet posts vacated by protest resignations.

Al-Maliki faces intense scrutiny in Washington, where Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are required to report to Congress by Sept. 15 on progress in Iraq.

Of special concern has been al-Maliki's inability or unwillingness to shepherd through parliament a series of laws aimed at bridging the bitter divide among the country's minority Sunni Arabs, Kurds and majority Shiite Muslims. The Cabinet walkout nearly insures that nothing of note will happen on that front before the report is delivered.

And that will only intensify opposition to President Bush's attempts to continue the Iraq campaign and sustain U.S. troop levels above 150,000.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, chairman of the Accordance Front, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview late Wednesday that the action was meant as a message not only to al-Maliki.

"We wanted to tell the whole world including the Arab world, the U.S., Britain and the European Union ... that the al-Maliki government is sectarian and does not respond to the needs of others," he said.

The declaration of suspension was read at a news conference earlier Wednesday by Sheik Khalaf al-Elyan, who leads the National Dialogue Council, one of three parties in the Accordance Front bloc.

Al-Elyan was joined by al-Dulaimi in his role as chief of the Congress of the People of Iraq Party and Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of the Iraqi Islamic Party.


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