By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 25, 2007
BAGHDAD, Aug. 24 -- Escalating a political crisis that has paralyzed the Iraqi government, three secular cabinet members will formally resign Saturday, according to a senior member of the group.
The Iraqi National List, an umbrella group of several political parties composed of secular Sunnis and Shiites, had boycotted cabinet meetings since Aug. 7 because of frustrations with what they saw as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's divisive leadership style. The party, headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, will now submit the official resignations, National List member Iyad Jamal al-Deen said.
"We have sent several letters to the prime minister asking for a discussion that would keep us in the government, and he did not respond to any of them," Deen said. "Our participation in the government would have no meaning now, so we will not participate."
Although the announcement was widely expected, the National List's official decision further damages any chance of reconciliation among Iraq's rival political factions in the near future. The disunity within the government and lack of progress on several key laws are expected to be major considerations in a report on conditions in Iraq scheduled to be presented to President Bush on Sept. 11.
The largest Sunni political bloc has already formally withdrawn from the cabinet, while the party loyal to powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr continues to boycott government meetings. All told, nearly half the cabinet members are not attending meetings.
The National List's move comes on the heels of proclamations by two prominent U.S. senators that Maliki should be removed. On Tuesday, Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, called for "a less sectarian and more unifying prime minister and government" in Iraq, comments that were echoed by a leading presidential candidate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), and quickly rejected by Maliki.
In an interview, Deen repeated the senators' criticism of the Maliki administration, saying top government officials are driven by secular loyalties rather than a genuine desire to improve Iraq. Many Sunnis and secularists have long felt marginalized working under Maliki, a Shiite.
"The problem is in having a political agenda that is founded on a sectarian basis," Deen said.
Bassam Ridha, a senior adviser to Maliki, said the National List members are the ones prioritizing their political party over the common good.
"They made a commitment to this government and took an oath, and now they are not fulfilling their commitment," Ridha said. "We're trying our best to harmonize, but they want to take over the government."
Ridha said Maliki would give the secularist cabinet members an opportunity to reconsider their decision but will replace them if they decide not to rejoin the government. He added that the prime minister already plans to seek parliament's approval for new cabinet members to replace the Sunnis who withdrew.
"We have 35 rï¿½sumï¿½s ready to go -- independent, qualified people without a political agenda," he said.
Also Friday, the U.S. military announced that an American soldier was killed and four were wounded by an explosion in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad.
Special correspondent Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.