Five more ministers boycotting Cabinet, further crippling al-Maliki government

The five Cabinet ministers loyal to Iraq's first post-Saddam leader will boycott government meetings, further deepening the political crisis that threatens to swamp the administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, two lawmakers said on Monday.

The boycott of Iraqiya List ministers loyal to former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi left the government, at least temporarily, with no Sunni participants. That was a deep blow to al-Maliki's attempt to craft reconciliation among the country's majority Shiites and minority Sunnis and Kurds.

Iraqiya List lawmaker Iyad Jamal-Aldin said the Allawi bloc had suspended Cabinet participation because al-Maliki failed to respond to demands for political reform issued five months ago.

He said the suspension was not tied to the decision last week by the top Sunni political bloc to pull its six ministers out of the 40-member Cabinet.

Lawmaker Hussam al-Azawi, also of the Iraqiya List, said the boycott began with Monday's Cabinet meeting.

"Our ministers did not attend, because our block has several demands that have not been met. We demanded broader political participation by all Iraqis to achieve real national reconciliation...and an end to sectarian favoritism," al-Azawi said.

The boycott raises to 17 the number of government ministers who have either suspended membership or quit this year.

The Iraqiya List is represented in the government by Justice Minister Hashim al-Shibli, a Sunni; Science and Technology Minister Raid Fahmi, a Sunni; Human Rights Minister Wijdan Michael, a Christian; Communications Minster Mohammed Tawfiq, a Shiite, and State Minister for Tribal Affairs Mohammed Abbas al-Oraibi, a Shiite.

The largest Sunni Arab bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, announced Wednesday that it was quitting the government, with six ministers submitting their resignations.

Rafaa al-Issawi, a leading member of the Front, said the decision to pull out of government was sealed by what he called al-Maliki's failure to respond to a set of demands, including the release of security detainees not charged with specific crimes, the disbanding of militias and the participation of all groups represented in the government in dealing with security issues.

Five Cabinet ministers loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also quit the government in April to protest al-Maliki's refusal to announce a timetable for the pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq.

Since the Accordance Front quit, President Jalal Talabani has been trying to broker their return in a bid to hold the government together. He met Sunday with Iraq's two vice presidents, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, and Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni.