The political movement loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr withdrew from Iraq’s ruling Shiite Alliance on Saturday, leaving Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s coalition in a precarious position in parliament.
The move further weakens Maliki’s coalition in parliament, which even before the defection had failed to press through key laws aimed at reconciling Iraq’s warring majority Shiite and minority Sunni Arabs.
His coalition now has around half the seats in the 275-seat parliament, although it could survive with the support of a handful of independent lawmakers.
“The political committee has declared the withdrawal of the Sadr bloc from the (Shiite) alliance because there was no visible indication that the demands of Sadr’s bloc were being met,” the Sadr movement said in a statement released at a news conference in the holy Shiite city of Najaf.
An adviser to Maliki said the government had no immediate comment.
The decision by Sadr’s movement to quit the Shiite Alliance in parliament was not unexpected after the cleric pulled his six ministers from the cabinet in April.
Maliki can still count on the backing of two other Shiite Islamist parties and the two main Kurdish parties in parliament, and so far no party has launched any push for a no-confidence vote in his government.
Sadr’s bloc in the past has noted a host of grievances, including Maliki’s refusal to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
Earlier this week the movement accused the government of failing to provide security and said political progress had been inadequate.
Maliki’s government also faced criticism from Washington.
President Bush, speaking on Thursday, said it had made limited political progress despite the breathing space offered by a “surge” of U.S. troops and better security.
U.S. criticism angers Iraqis
In a report ordered by Congress, the White House echoed that criticism on Friday, saying that Iraq’s leaders had made satisfactory progress on just nine out of 18 political and security benchmarks and unsatisfactory progress in seven.
It said it could not rate two other targets.
Iraqi lawmakers were not impressed, saying Washington should take responsibility for the turmoil in Iraq.
“The Americans always try to pretend the responsibility for cleaning up this mess isn’t theirs and tend to shift blame onto Iraq, Iran and Syria for everything that goes wrong,” said veteran Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman.
“But they should stop this nonsense and admit that most of the accountability rests on their shoulders,” he told Reuters.
Bush, announcing plans for a limited withdrawal of around 20,000 U.S. troops by July, said on Thursday U.S. forces had helped ensure “ordinary life is beginning to return” to Baghdad.
Suicide blast in Baghdad
On Saturday evening a suicide car bomber killed 10 people and wounded 15 others in southwest Baghdad. Many were queuing outside a bakery to buy bread for the evening Ramadan meal which breaks the day-long fast during the Muslim holy month.
The bombing came on the same day that an al-Qaida led group, the Islamic State in Iraq, announced a new phase of attacks to mark the month of Ramadan, which started this week.
In an audiotape posted on the Internet on Saturday the group’s purported leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, renewed a call on Iraqis to fight the U.S.-led forces and their allies.
The U.S. military says the Islamic State in Iraq is a front organization set up by al-Qaida in Iraq.
The political benchmarks, which include a crucial revenue-sharing oil law, are designed to build on the improved security and promoting national reconciliation.
Maliki’s government has been paralyzed by infighting. Besides the withdrawal of ministers loyal to Sadr, six cabinet members from the main Sunni Arab bloc have also quit.