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Iraq: Sunni Bloc Quits Government In Snub To Al-Maliki

  • Breffni O'Rourke --> The Sunni bloc accused al-Maliki of "slamming the door" on reforms (AFP) August 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's largest Sunni Arab political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, has announced it is quitting the Iraqi cabinet, accusing the Shi'a-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of failure to address a list of its concerns.

The bloc's decision to withdraw its six cabinet members from the national unity government is a blow for al-Maliki at a difficult time.

A senior leader of the Accordance Front, Rafaa al-Issawi, noted al-Maliki’s failure to respond to a letter from the bloc last week demanding to know when the government would act on its demands. He accused the government of "arrogance," and having "slammed shut the door to any meaningful reforms necessary for saving Iraq.”

Analyst Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group explains that what the Accordance Front is asking for is better Sunni representation in the government and in the national institutions, and also in the security forces.

“This is not going to be very easy, because the parties that are in power now consider that the present attacks, the insurgency, is based in the Sunni Arab community, and they see this as an attempt by the former regime to come back, and they are going to resist that,” Hiltermann said.

Deputy Prime Minister Barhim Salih, who is a Kurd, described the row as “probably the most serious political crisis we have faced since the passage of the constitution.” He said if it remains unresolved, the implications are grave.

Political Maneuvering

In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow said it's too earlier to draw conclusions. "Let's see how this develops, because there are continuing conversations and there are continuing negotiations between the parties," Snow said. "Let me also remind you that the head of the Sunni party remains in negotiations with the heads of the other parties, in terms of dealing with political accommodation.”

Snow noted that the Iraqi Accordance Front’s 44 parliamentarians would be staying in the legislature, even as the bloc’s six minister-level members leave the cabinet -- and even that was not confirmed.

“It's up to the Prime Minister to decide whether he will accept or reject the resignations from the cabinet," Snow said. "The party itself remains in the parliament and in a position to conduct votes. So what you're seeing is sort of some internal politicking going on in Iraq.”

Hiltermann said the Accordance Front is "posturing," and "trying to extract the sort of concessions that the Americans have said all along that the Shi’ite and Kurdish-led government should make toward the Sunni Arab community."

"I think the Accordance Front is fed up with waiting for over a year now, and is trying to put pressure on the Bush administration to intercede with the Iraqi government to move forward on the deals that are supposed to be made to bring about reconciliation," Hiltermann said.

Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has already hinted that the Accordance Front is willing to return to the cabinet. He said it would reconsider its decision “tomorrow” if the government reviews the bloc's demands.

Searching For A Way Forward
A boy looks out from his Baghdad home (AFP)

LOOKING BEYOND AL-MALIKI: RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo led an RFE/RL briefing about the changing political landscape in Iraq, focusing on efforts to gain the upper hand in the event that the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki falls.


Listen to the entire briefing (about 70 minutes):
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THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.