- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2007

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab bloc said today it has suspended its membership in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s coalition government, dealing a new setback to the Shi’ite leader’s efforts to achieve national reconciliation.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, which has six Cabinet members as well as 44 of parliament’s 275 seats, said it was giving Mr. al-Maliki a week to meet its demands or it would quit his 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. Mr. al-Elyan leads the National Dialogue Council.

Reading from a prepared statement, Mr. 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 had been refusing to attend Cabinet meetings but said today they would stop going to work, effective immediately. The Accordance Front members of government include the deputy prime minister for security as well as the ministers of planning, higher education, culture and defense and the minister of state for women’s affairs.

The move was the latest in a series of boycotts by minority Sunnis and followers of a radical Shi’ite cleric.

The boycotts have left Mr. al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government increasingly fragile at a time when it’s under mounting pressure from Washington to meet a series of political benchmarks ahead of a key report to Congress in September by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus.

Mr. al-Maliki had no immediate comment on today’s development.