New York Times: Five ministers suspended their participation in meetings of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Malikis cabinet on Monday, sending a warning signal that they may pull out of his increasingly isolated government if their demands are not met. The New York Times
By STEPHEN FARRELL
Published: August 7, 2007
BAGHDAD, Aug 6 Five ministers suspended their participation in meetings of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Malikis cabinet on Monday, sending a warning signal that they may pull out of his increasingly isolated government if their demands are not met.
The five are members of the secular Iraqiya coalition led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a moderate group whose lawmakers are drawn from across sectarian lines. Their move, coupled with the largest Sunni Arab blocs decision to withdraw its six ministers last week, struck yet another blow to Mr. Malikis faltering efforts to present his religious Shiite-led coalition as a national unity government.
In the northern city of Tal Afar, hailed as a success story in March 2006 by President Bush, a suicide truck bomber drove into a densely populated Shiite neighborhood on Monday morning, killing at least 28 people, including many women and children. Many of the children were playing hopscotch and marbles in the street, witnesses said in telephone interviews, and officials feared that the death toll could climb.
Rescue teams are still searching for casualties among the rubble, said Ali Abbo, a local official. In March this year Tal Afar was hit by one of the deadliest suicide bombings of the conflict, when a truck exploded, killing 152 people and wounding 347, also in a Shiite neighborhood. That attack prompted a spate of revenge killings by Shiites.
The cabinet boycott by Iraqiya is expected to have little immediate effect, because the ministers would continue to run their departments. But it brings to 17 the number of ministers nearly half the cabinet who have become fully or partly detached from the Shiite-led coalition.
In addition to the six ministers from the Sunni Arab party, the Iraqi Consensus Front, who quit last week, six ministers allied with the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr withdrew in April after Mr. Maliki refused to set a timetable for United States troops to leave Iraq.
Mr. Allawi, a secular Shiite and former member of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein, criticized the government last week for being built on the philosophy of sectarianism. In the past, he has faulted the governments policies regarding former members of the Baath Party and hiring quotas based on sectarian groupings.
Iyad Jamal al-Din, an Iraqiya lawmaker, denied that the suspension was related to the Consensus Fronts recent pullout. He maintained that it was a protest against Mr. Malikis failure to respond to Iraqiyas demands for reform five months ago.
Describing the move as a first step, he said Iraqiya would wait to see how the government reacts. Everything is possible, all doors are open, he said.
The United States and Iran held a third session of talks on Iraq on Monday, at the first meeting of a new security subcommittee to discuss ways of restoring stability to Iraq. Washington has repeatedly accused Iran of arming, training and financing Shiite militias, some of which then attack American forces.
Iran denies involvement and has demanded the release of five Iranians seized in Erbil in January. Iran claims they are diplomats but the United States has said they are linked to Irans elite Quds Force, which is suspected of providing arms and training to the militias.
The talks were presided over by President Jalal Talabani, with the three sides sitting at separate conference tables in an Iraqi government building. The American delegation was led by the American Embassys counselor for political and military affairs, Marcie B. Ries.
Hossein Amir Abdollahian, an Iranian Foreign Ministry official, led the Iranian delegation, the official IRNA news agency reported. Both sides have insisted that the discussion focus only on Iraq, not on wider disagreements like those over Irans nuclear program.
Both sides agreed to continue discussions at a date to be established later. But American officials later disclosed that Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker met for two hours with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, in the presence of Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser to Iraqs prime minister. Both sets of talks were described by American officials as frank and serious.
The United States military said four American soldiers died Monday from wounds suffered in a combat explosion in Diyala Province, north of Baghdad.
The military also said Monday that one soldier was killed during fighting in eastern Baghdad a day earlier.
A roadside bomb hidden in garbage killed six people in Baghdad as street cleaners were sweeping the road, the Iraqi police said.
Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi contributed reporting.