THE political bloc of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr says it is quitting the Iraqi government, as a wave of bombings left another 43 people dead in Baghdad.
‘We will announce our withdrawal from the government tomorrow,’ Saleh Hassan Issa al-Igaili, a law-maker from the Sadr group, said on Sunday.
He says the move is to press the group’s demand for puppet prime minister Maliki to present a timetable for a US withdrawal from Iraq.
Sadr also controls the Mahdi army militia, which now represents the most powerful force amongst the Shia people.
His militia has already fought the US army in two military campaigns.
Six members of the Maliki cabinet are Sadr supporters.
Maliki and his ally US President George W Bush have steadfastly refused to set a time-line for the withdrawal.
The Sadr group, as well as the six cabinet ministers in Maliki’s government, has 32 law-makers in the 275-member Iraqi puppet Parliament.
Last week, during a trip to Tokyo, Maliki rejected demands by the US Congress for a timetable to pull out American troops saying any withdrawal should be based on the situation on the ground.
His remarks angered the Sadr group, which on Wednesday gave its first indication it was preparing to walk out of the government.
However, Igaili clarified the withdrawal was only from the Cabinet and that the political bloc will continue to participate in the Assembly.
Sadr, a known anti-American and Iraqi nationalist cleric, has strongly opposed the US presence in his country since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The boycott will not trigger a collapse of the Maliki government, but it is expected to increase pressure on the premier at a time when he is busy overseeing a failing security crackdown in Baghdad much of it aimed at the Mahdi army.
The Sadr group boycotted the Iraqi government for two months from November 29 until late January in protest at a meeting between Maliki and US President Bush in Jordan.
The US military, which fought two bloody rebellions launched by Sadr against its forces in 2004, accuses his militia of being involved in sectarian killings of Sunni Arabs.
The Baghdad security crackdown largely aims to rein in his militia that has melted away since the launch of the plan in February.
But while militia-based killings have been reduced in Baghdad, insurgent bombings are rampant, and on Sunday a spate of devastating blasts killed 43 people in Shia shopping areas.
Eighteen people died when a booby-trapped car blew up outside a restaurant and a second ripped through a market in the southern Al-Shurta al-Arabaa suburb of Iraq’s capital, a medic says.
As the skeleton of burnt wreckage still smouldered, a bus rigged with bombs exploded in a downtown shopping district in Karrada, killing at least 11 people and wounding 18, defence and security sources say.
In the northern and predominantly Shiite district of Al-Utaifiyah, a suicide bomber boarded a minibus and blew himself up, killing six people and wounding 10, another security official said on condition of anonymity.
Soon after nightfall, another two roadside bombs exploded within minutes of each other in Karrada, killing eight people and wounding 23, a security official says.
Two British helicopters also crashed in Iraq on Sunday near Taji north of Baghdad, killing two Britons and seriously wounding a third, although officials say the incident ‘appeared’ to have been a mid-air accident rather than the result of hostile fire.
British Defence Minister Des Browne says there are ‘six casualties as a result of this incident’.
Two of them were killed and four others wounded, of which two have been discharged and two remain serious, he says.
Last week, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis answered a call by al-Sadr to rally in the holy Shia city of Najaf to protest against the presence of about 180,000 US-led troops in Iraq.
Abdul-Mehdi al-Muteyri, a senior official in the Sadr movement, said Sadr had ordered the pullout himself, saying Maliki was hamstrung by political parties in his government pulling him in different directions.
‘We don’t believe in partisan quotas. Under the direct orders of Moqtada al-Sadr we have decided we are going to leave the government in order to give the prime minister the best possible options so that he can run his government,’ Muteyri said.
The move could bring down the government by creating explosive tensions in the already fractious Shia-led coalition.
Meanwhile in London, Abdal al Bari Atwan, writing in the Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, has predicted that the bombing of the Iraqi parliament inside the Green Zone proves that the latest US Security Plan has failed.
He wrote: ‘It is certain that most of the members of Iraq’s Governing Council who were appointed by the US Administrator Paul Bremer (head of the Coalition Provisional Authority) and who approved a decree proclaiming the day of the fall of Baghdad a national day – a day of joy celebrated by all Iraqis – are now living abroad; while those who had remained in Baghdad may have begun to pack their bags in preparation to leave for safe European exiles, now that the bombings and explosive belts have reached parliament in the heart of the Green Zone, which is supposed to be safer and the only oasis of stability in restless Iraq.
‘Paul Bremer, and his supporters among the members of the Governing Council who had come from outside Iraq, wanted April 9th to be liberation day that marks a new stage for a new, prosperous and stable Iraq. However, four years later the picture looks tragic by any standard.
‘Yesterday’s suicide bombing, which led to the deaths of eight people including two members of the Iraqi parliament, is the biggest violation of security in the history of the US occupation.
‘The Green Zone, where the Iraqi parliament is located, is under full US security control. No one can enter it except after passing through several checkpoints where they are thoroughly searched – and in that everyone is equal, be they ministers, MPs or guards.
‘Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki cannot leave his office for any other location in the Zone, except after notifying the US security services a whole day in advance, so that they can take the necessary security precautions to protect him.
‘If the US forces – which in Iraq number more than 160,000 soldiers and are considered to be the best armed and trained in the world – are unable to provide protection to the MPs and officials in an area that does not exceed three square miles, that indicates the extent of the collapse of the US project in Iraq, and all the other political plans that branched out from it, just as it points to the exacerbating US dilemma in Iraq.’
Atwan concludes: ‘After miraculously surviving three assassination attempts in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karazai decided to get rid of all his Afghan guards, and to depend on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to undertake the task.
‘Iraqi politicians and MPs may resort to the same, but what is more likely is that they will flee abroad, having lost confidence in US-provided security, just as most of the former Governing Council members, ministers, and officials – the latest among whom was Judge Ra’uf Abd-al-Rahman, who passed the death sentences on Saddam Hussein and his colleagues, for he now stands in the queue of those applying for asylum and social assistance in Britain – have done.’