Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Iraq Sunni Ministers Refuse To Attend Office

By Cernig

The main Sunni bloc in Iraq, the Iraqi Accordance Front has suspended its involvement in Maliki's government again, just days after ending its last suspension. This time, ministers from the Accordance Front are refusing to even attend their offices and the Front is threatening to pull out of Maliki's government entirely - something which would end any seeming of a cross-sectarian meakeup to the Maliki administration.
The Iraqi Accordance Front, which has six Cabinet seats and 44 of 275 in parliament, gave al-Maliki a week to meet its demands or see its six members officially quit the 14-month-old Cabinet.

``The Accordance Front announces the suspension of its membership in the government,'' Sheik Khalaf al-Elyan said at a news conference attended by the two other leaders of the three-party Accordance Front - Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of the Iraqi Islamic Party and Adnan al-Dulaimi of the Congress of the People of Iraq. Al-Elyan leads the National Dialogue Council.

Reading from a prepared statement, al-Elyan said the front's demands included a pardon for security detainees not charged with specific crimes, a firm commitment by the government to human rights, the disbanding of militias and the inclusion of all parties in the government in dealing with the country's security situation.

The Sunni ministers already were boycotting Cabinet meetings but said Wednesday they now won't even go to their offices. The Accordance Front cabinet ministers include the deputy prime minister for security as well as the ministers of planning, higher education, culture, defense and the minister of state for women's affairs.

The threat was the latest in a series of boycotts by minority Sunnis and followers of a radical Shiite cleric, which have left al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government increasingly fragile even as pressure mounts in Washington on him to shepherd through a series of political benchmarks ahead of a key U.S. report to Congress in September.

Sunni legislators and Sadrists lifted a separate boycott of the parliament last week in an apparent bid to ensure they would retain influence in the debate over power-sharing bills before an August legislative vacation.

If the Sunni bloc quits, al-Maliki's Cabinet would limp along with about a third of its seats vacant and without its billing as a ``national unity'' government. But the day-to-day business of the affected ministries was unlikely to be disrupted.

Al-Sadr's loyalists quit the government in April to protest what they said was its failure to declare a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Those five ministries are being run by top civil servants.

Al-Maliki had no immediate comment on Wednesday's development, which also threatened to undermine weeks of behind-the-scene negotiations to form a coalition of moderate parties from all sects - dubbed ``the alliance of moderates.'' So far only two Shiite and two Kurdish parties have signed up and they had been urging al-Hashemi's moderate Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni Arab group, and independent Shiites to join them.
One of the most compelling reasons for such a Sunni withdrawal today must surely be the announcement yesterday of a US/Iran security committee in Iraq. While US rightwing pundits are still behind the news, the UK's conservative Telegraph newspaper today is repeating the BBC's assertion yesterday that the new committee "would concentrate on the threat from groups such as al-Qa'eda in Iraq, officials said, but not those [Shiite] militia groups the US accuses Iran of funding and training."

Juan Cole writes (H/T Kevin Drum):
If the US is allying with Iran against the Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda, this is a very major development and much more important than some carping over Shiite militias. (My guess is that 98% of American troops killed in Iraq have been killed by Sunni Arab guerrillas). If the report is true and has legs, it will send Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal ballistic. The Sunni Arab states do not like "al-Qaeda" in Iraq, but they are much more afraid of Iran than of the Iraqi Sunni Arabs who are fighting against US military occupation.
Not just the Saudis will go ballistic. As I wrote when the BBC's report first came out:
That, if true, would be a major would be seen by the Iraqi Sunni community as further evidence that the US and Iran see eye-to-eye with the Maliki government on further repression of that minority. That would play directly into the hands of Al Qaeda's propogandists and actively work against reducing Sunni attacks.
Is there anything the Bush administration is competent at other than gathering domestic power unto itself?

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