By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 13, 2007
BAGHDAD, Aug. 12 -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday expressed optimism about the chances of reconciliation within Iraq's fractured government, even as a political rival accused him of protecting militias with ties to Iran.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced that five soldiers were killed Saturday when a sniper shot one, then lured the others to a house rigged to explode. It was the single deadliest attack against American forces this month.
Four troops were wounded in the incident, which occurred southeast of Baghdad in Arab Jabour, a haven for Sunni insurgents.
Maliki announced Sunday that a meeting of Iraq's leaders would begin this week, possibly on Monday, in an attempt to resolve the growing political crisis. His primary goal will be to reconcile with nearly half of his cabinet members, who have stopped attending meetings in three separate protests against his leadership.
The results of the summit could have significant ramifications for the progress report that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is scheduled to present to President Bush and Congress on Sept. 15. Maliki's desire to create a cohesive government has been crippled by tensions among Shiite factions and by a sense of alienation among minority Sunnis, leaving several key pieces of legislation stalled. The Bush administration, in an initial assessment July 12, concluded that progress on several political issues had been "unsatisfactory."
In announcing the meeting, Maliki said he hoped the six cabinet members from the Iraqi Accordance Front -- the largest Sunni political bloc -- would return to the government. But he added that he would not hesitate to replace the politicians with other Sunnis, saying that several tribal sheiks had approached him about filling the seats.
"We all hope that this crisis will end and the problems will be solved and the ministers will return to their ministries," he said. "But if, God forbid, this does not happen, then we will go to the brothers who have come forward and choose replacements."
Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Accordance Front, said that his party would participate in future political gatherings but that Maliki is failing Sunnis by directing his government to protect Shiite militias backed by Iran. Maliki visited Iran last week, but he has not stated whether he believes the country supports insurgents in Iraq. Iran denies the accusations.
"The fact on the ground is that police and the army, under Maliki's control, are protecting the militias and are facilitating access to the Sunni areas," Dulaimi said in an interview.
In a six-page statement, Dulaimi appealed to neighboring Arab countries to help stop Iranian action in Iraq.
"Four years have passed with our houses being violated and our mosques being raped, and we have been killed, displaced, set aside and marginalized," Dulaimi wrote in the letter, which was signed "the Sunnis of Mesopotamia." "And you Arabs are sleeping and are not aware and have not moved anything and not even bothered yourself to condemn what is taking place against your brothers on the hands of the Iranian militia and death squads."
In the interview, Dulaimi said he hoped neighboring countries would use their "political and moral influence" to pressure Maliki to crack down on Shiite militias and stop meeting with Iran.
Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.