- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2007

BAGHDAD — Baghdad shook with bombings and political upheaval yesterday as the largest Sunni Arab bloc quit the government and a suicide attacker blew up his fuel tanker in one of several attacks that claimed 142 lives nationwide.

The Iraqi Accordance Front’s withdrawal from the Cabinet leaves only two Sunnis in the 40-member body, undermining Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s efforts to pull together rival factions and pass reconciliation laws the United States considers benchmarks that could lead to sectarian reconciliation.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of four more U.S. soldiers, including three killed in Baghdad on Tuesday by a powerful armor-piercing bomb. Washington says these types of bombs are sent from Iran. The fourth soldier was killed by small arms fire on the same day. A British soldier also was killed Tuesday in a roadside bombing.

The U.S. military announced it found a mass grave in Diyala province northeast of the capital. The grave contained 17 bodies of mostly Sunni Muslims — including women, children and elderly people — killed by al Qaeda in Iraq, the military said.

Altogether at least 142 Iraqis were killed or found dead, including 70 in three separate bombings yesterday in Baghdad. The deadliest attack occurred when a fuel tanker exploded near a gas station in western Baghdad’s primarily Sunni Mansour neighborhood. At least 50 persons died and 60 were wounded, police said.

The violence occurred after July ended as the second-deadliest month for Iraqis so far this year, but with the lowest U.S. death toll in eight months.

Washington has been pushing the al-Maliki government to pass key laws — among them, measures to share national oil revenues and incorporate some ousted Ba’athists into mainstream politics. But the Sunni ministers’ resignation from the Cabinet — not parliament — foreshadowed even greater difficulty in building consensus when lawmakers return after a monthlong summer recess.

President Bush prodded Mr. al-Maliki to unite rival factions and show some overdue political progress, the White House said.

The two leaders spoke for 45 minutes in a secure videoconference, part of a regular series of conversations on the war and Iraq’s struggling democracy.

“The president emphasized that the Iraqi people and the American people need to see action — not just words — but need to see action on the political front,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said. “The prime minister agreed.”

Rafaa al-Issawi, a leading member of the Accordance Front, said the decision to pull out of government was sealed by what he called Mr. al-Maliki’s failure to respond to a set of demands put forward by the Accordance Front last week. At the time, the Sunni bloc gave the prime minister seven days to meet its demands — an ultimatum that expired yesterday.

The Accordance Front has 44 of parliament’s 275 seats, and those politicians will continue in the legislature. The withdrawal of its six Cabinet ministers from the 14-month-old government is the second such action by a faction of Mr. al-Maliki’s coalition.

Five Cabinet ministers loyal to radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr quit the government in April to protest Mr. al-Maliki’s refusal to announce a timetable for the pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq.