BAGHDAD – Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused Sunday to accept the resignations of six Cabinet members, keeping open the door for a possible return of Sunni ministers whose departure last week caused a crisis in his unity government.
Members of the Sunni bloc known as the Iraqi Accordance Front, or Tawafiq in Arabic, said al-Maliki’s action would not affect their decision. But a senior member held out the possibility that a resolution could be reached at an upcoming summit of leaders of Iraq’s main ethnic and religious blocs.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he believed the troop buildup completed in June was beginning to improve security but blamed Iraqi politicians for failing to pass legislation aimed at reconciliation.
He expressed disappointment at the Sunni withdrawal from Cabinet, as well as parliament’s decision to take the month of August off. He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he had urged the country’s presidency council, which consists of its president and two vice presidents, not to follow parliament’s example.
U.S. officials, under pressure to show progress in a report to be delivered in Congress on Sept. 15, had hoped that giving Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority a stake in the government would foster reconciliation with the majority Shiite Muslims.
In violence Sunday, a mortar barrage in southeast Baghdad killed at least 13 people and injured 17, police said. Some of the shells landed at a gas station, where many of the victims were lined up, causing a fireball that engulfed at least 15 cars, police said.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, announced the deaths of four soldiers. At least 3,669 U.S. personnel have been killed since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, according to the Web site icasualties.org, which tracks military casualties.