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Sunnis Quit Cabinet Posts; Bombs Kill 75 in Baghdad

By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

BAGHDAD, Aug. 1 -- Iraq's largest Sunni political group partially withdrew from the Shiite-dominated government Wednesday, the latest indication of growing Sunni frustration with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The announcement by the Iraqi Accordance Front came on an especially violent day in Baghdad, as three car bombs killed at least 75 people in the capital. Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced the deaths of four U.S. troops, bringing the total number of Americans killed in July to 78, the lowest monthly figure since November.

The Accordance Front announced that it would vacate five of its six seats in Maliki's cabinet because of what Sunni leaders called the failure of the prime minister and other leading government officials to make progress on a list of demands the group issued last week.

"The government is continuing with its arrogance, refusing to change its stand and slamming shut the door to any meaningful reforms necessary to save Iraq," said Rafaa al-Issawi, a senior member of the Accordance Front.

Maliki's success in persuading the group to join the Iraqi government last year was hailed as a major victory in Washington and Baghdad. The prime minister's 24-point national reconciliation plan, unveiled in June 2006, was intended eventually to end sectarian violence by giving a voice to Sunnis in the Shiite-dominated government. But political progress has been limited and sectarian insurgent groups have continued car bomb attacks, assassinations and other forms of violence.

"Our aim has always been the continuation of active political participation with everyone taking his proper role in the responsibility of controlling the country and making decisions," Maliki said in a written statement. "We tried our best to continue that way and we'll continue to maintain a connection with all political blocs."

The Accordance Front had demanded the release of thousands of detainees it says are unjustly imprisoned, the removal of all militia members from the Shiite-dominated Iraqi police force and the return of displaced families to their homes. The Sunnis also sought a greater role in security matters and further investigation into mass kidnappings and the bombings of Sunni shrines.

Issawi said that the group's demands will remain on the table and that its 44 parliament members will not withdraw. Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jassim, both Accordance Front members, will remain in the government for the time being, he said.

The announcement occurred in the hour between two car bomb attacks that killed at least 70 people in Baghdad, police said. A fuel tanker exploded in the volatile western neighborhood of Mansour, killing at least 50 people and wounding 60 others. A car bomb in Karrada, in central Baghdad, killed at least 20 people and injured 32 others, police said.

The attack in Karrada, in front of a popular ice cream parlor, was the eighth such blast in that neighborhood in the past month. Although the busy shopping district was once considered one of Baghdad's safest areas, it has experienced a dramatic increase in violence in the past several weeks.

A third car bomb, in the Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad, killed five people and injured five, police said.

Also Wednesday, the U.S. military announced that four American troops had been killed in two incidents Tuesday. That brought the total number of U.S. deaths in July to 78, the lowest number since November, according to iCasualties.org, an independent Web site that tracks deaths in the Iraq war. For each of the past two years, the number of U.S. casualties has dropped in July and risen again in August, but U.S. Embassy spokesman Philip Reeker said the decline this July was evidence of military success as a result of the increase in troop levels.

"The surge has done what we wanted it to do in terms of bringing down the violence," Reeker said. "The hardest part is taking advantage of these security gains to move the political process forward."

Special correspondent Saad al-Izzi contributed to this report.

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