By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
BAGHDAD, Aug. 6 -- Iraq's political crisis deepened Monday as five more ministers withdrew from cabinet meetings, delivering a major blow to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's fractured unity government and efforts to reconcile Iraq's warring parties.
Hours earlier, a truck bomb in a Shiite village near the northern city of Tall Afar killed 31 people and wounded scores more, striking an area that was once hailed by President Bush and U.S. military commanders as an oasis of stability, following U.S. operations against insurgents there. Six children were among the dead, police said.
The U.S. military also announced the deaths of six American soldiers, including four killed in an explosion Monday in volatile Diyala province, where U.S. forces are engaged in a major offensive against Sunni insurgents. The blast injured 12 other U.S. soldiers, the military said in a statement. One soldier was killed by a sophisticated roadside bomb in west Baghdad on Monday, and another was killed during combat in eastern Baghdad on Sunday, the military said.
Meanwhile, U.S. and Iranian diplomats met in Baghdad to launch a new security committee in an attempt to bring stability to Iraq. The committee is a product of face-to-face talks the two sides have had in recent months, following nearly 30 years of diplomatic freeze.
"It is an established channel of communication, and we will see in the future as to whether or not it is a useful channel of communication," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington.
The latest boycott by the five ministers, a mix of Sunnis and Shiites loyal to former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, followed last week's decision by the top Sunni political bloc to pull its six ministers from the cabinet. Monday's action left the government, at least for the time being, without any politicians from Sunni factions in the Shiite-dominated cabinet.
Legislators loyal to Allawi said the ministers would continue to run their ministries but not attend any cabinet meetings. They cited as reasons for their action a lack of progress on issues such as the status of Iraqi detainees, the repatriation of displaced Iraqis and the return of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to government jobs.
"This act is not an escalation, but it is an objection to what the government is doing," Alia Nusaiyef Jasim, a legislator in Allawi's secular Shiite al-Iraqiyah bloc, told the al-Jazeera television network. "The Iraqiyah bloc participated in the government on the basis of sharing in the decision-making, but the bloc is marginalized in the government"
In Qabak, 15 miles north of Tall Afar, police officials said the suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden truck carrying ice blocks into the village center and detonated it near a crowd that included women and children.
The small village, which has no police station or military barracks, was targeted because of its vulnerability, said Brig Gen. Najim Abdullah, Tall Afar's mayor.
"The perpetrator of this act was aiming at raising the sectarian tension among the citizens since Tall Afar is known for its sectarian and ethnic diversity," said Abdullah.
"There isn't a single house in the village which does not have someone killed or wounded in the bombing, because it took place in the center of the village," said Salih al-Qaddo, director of Tall Afar's main hospital.
Hours later, another suicide truck bomb targeted an Iraqi army patrol in the northern city of Mosul, wounding 12 soldiers, Maj. Khursheed Ahmad said.
South of Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded in a bus station, killing 8 people and wounding 10, police said.
In Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, Iraqi security forces found 60 unidentified bodies in a mass grave. Most had been shot and handcuffed, and they showed signs of torture, police said. In Baghdad, police found ten corpses Monday.
Special correspondents Dlovan Brwari in Mosul province and Naseer Nouri and Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad contributed to this report.