- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2007

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s parliament yesterday shrugged off U.S. criticism and adjourned for a month, as key lawmakers declared there is no point waiting any longer for the prime minister to deliver Washington-demanded benchmark legislation for their vote.

Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani closed the final three-hour session without a quorum present and declared lawmakers will not reconvene until Sept. 4.

That date is just 11 days before the top U.S. military and political officials in Iraq must report to Congress on U.S. progress in taming violence and organizing conditions for sectarian reconciliation.

The recess, coupled with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s failure to get the key draft laws before legislators, may nourish growing opposition to the war among U.S. lawmakers, who could refuse to continue to fund it.

Critics questioned how Iraqi legislators can take a summer break while U.S. forces are fighting and dying to create conditions under which important laws could be passed toward ending sectarian political divisions and bloodshed.

But in leaving parliament, many lawmakers blamed Mr. al-Maliki.

“Even if we sit next month, there’s no guarantee that important business will be done,” said Mahmoud Othman, a prominent Kurdish legislator. The parliament extended its session by a month, having initially planned a recess for July and August.

“There are Iraqi-Iraqi and Iraqi-American differences that have not been resolved,” Mr. Othman said of the benchmark legislation. “The government throws the ball in our court, but we say that it is in the government’s court and that of the politicians. They sent us nothing [to debate or vote on].”

The September reports by Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and U.S. commander Gen. David H. Petraeus are to assess progress by the Iraqi government and its security forces on 18 political and security benchmarks.

Those include a so-called “oil law” that would set rules for foreign investment and the fair distribution of revenue to all of Iraq’s sects and ethnic groups.

“We gave the government a good chance by continuing to sit in July. We can still return for an emergency session if that’s required, but I don’t think that this is necessary because the draft legislation is not complete,” said Salem Abdullah, spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, the key Sunni bloc in parliament.

In Washington, the State Department was unusually silent on the matter, declining to criticize the lawmakers for the break.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in Iraq,” deputy spokesman Tom Casey said. “I’ll leave it to the parliamentary leaders themselves to explain why this might be a good time to take a break.”

Meanwhile, Mr. al-Maliki faces a revolt within his party by factions that want to oust him as Iraq’s leader, said officials in his office and the political party he leads.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Mr. al-Maliki’s predecessor, leads the challenge and already approached leaders of the country’s two main Kurdish parties, parliament’s two Sunni Arab blocs and lawmakers loyal to powerful Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Mr. al-Jaafari’s campaign, the officials said, is based on his concern that Mr. al-Maliki’s policies led Iraq into turmoil because the prime minister was doing too little to promote national reconciliation.

Also yesterday, a small bus exploded in a central Baghdad market district, killing at least six persons — a brutal reminder of the dangers facing Iraqis who celebrated in the streets by the tens of thousands Sunday night after their national team won the prestigious Asian Cup soccer tournament.

At least 31 persons were wounded, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.

A total of 42 Iraqis were killed or found dead nationwide, according to police, hospital and morgue officials.

The U.S. military said three soldiers were killed in fighting in Anbar province west of Baghdad on Thursday.

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