( LatWp ) - Iraq's largest Sunni political group will end all participation in the national government next week unless the prime minister complies with a lengthy list of demands, the group announced Wednesday.
The announcement by the Iraqi Accordance Front dealt another blow to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose desire to create a cohesive administration has been crippled by tensions between rival Shiite groups and a sense of alienation among Sunnis. The government also has failed to pass several pieces of legislation that the Bush administration considers essential to promote national reconciliation.
The threatened political boycott is also a setback for President Bush, who is expecting a report by Sept. 15 from Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander, on progress in Iraq. The disunity within the Iraqi government and the dwindling chance of significant legislative action before the parliament's month-long August recess decrease the likelihood of a positive assessment of conditions in Iraq at a time when congressional support for a continued military presence is waning.
The announcement came a few hours before national jubilation over the Iraqi soccer team's semifinal win in the Asian Cup turned violent in Baghdad, where bombings and celebratory gunfire killed at least 55 people.
The Accordance Front's six cabinet members have not attended meetings since June 29, when they withdrew because of criminal accusations against the minister of culture and frustrations with the majority Shiites. The group's cabinet members include the deputy prime minister for security and the ministers of defense, culture, planning, higher education and the minister of state for women's affairs.
``After one more week, we'll give the Prime Minister a chance to show us and the elected people a real direction for improvement or we will leave altogether,'' said Alaa Maki, a senior member of the Accordance Front who serves in the Iraqi parliament.
The group is demanding the release of thousands of detainees it says are unjustly imprisoned, the removal of all militia members from the Iraqi police force and the return of displaced families to their homes. The Sunnis are also seeking a greater role in security matters and further investigation into mass kidnappings and bombings of Sunni shrines.
Representatives of the Accordance Front said their complaints are driven by a sense that Maliki's government has not demonstrated enough of a commitment to solving the problems of ordinary Iraqis.
``All we want from him is simple decisions to show the Iraqi people that he will help them, but we don't see that at all,'' Maki said.
Sadiq al-Rikabi, an adviser to Maliki, said the Accordance Front's decision to pull out rather than to address their concerns within the government was irresponsible. He dismissed the notion that the Sunnis were marginalized within the government, saying Accordance Front members had a voice in every national decision.
``The Iraqi people would like to see the politicians stand strongly together to push forward and make real progress,'' Rikabi said. ``And yet all we hear from them are threats.''
Rikabi said several of the grievances listed by the Accordance Front are out of the government's hands but that Maliki and other cabinet members are willing to continue discussions with the group.
At a match in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Iraq's soccer team won in dramatic fashion Wednesday, beating South Korea 4-3 on penalty kicks after a 0-0 tie to earn its first-ever trip to the Asian Cup final. Iraq will play Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Immediately after the game, tens of thousands of people rushed into the streets of Baghdad, firing weapons into the air despite military warnings not to shoot. The celebrations began peacefully, but two car bombs left at least 50 revelers dead while another five were killed by the celebratory gunfire.
The first bomb exploded near a popular ice cream parlor in the Mansour neighborhood of western Baghdad, killing at least 30 people and injuring 80 more. About 30 minutes later, another car bomb detonated in a crowd of cheering fans in the Ghadeer neighborhood on the east side of town, killing at least 20 and injuring 65 others.
In an attempt to minimize violence, police closed bridges and blocked traffic into Karrada, the largely Shiite district downtown that became the epicenter of the celebration. Still, the streets were choked with crowds of shirtless young men, chanting, singing, waving Iraq flags and shooting off firecrackers.
As an American convoy passed, the crowds surged toward the Humvees, making obscene gestures and screaming at the soldiers. Near one of the city's few remaining liquor stores, gangs of young men fought each other in the streets, and the sound of gunfire echoed between the buildings.