BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A key Shiite Muslim bloc in Iraq's government vowed yesterday to quit over Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a move that would further weaken the country's leadership at a time of soaring sectarian violence.
The threat came on the heels of another bloody day in the capital, where at least 37 people died in bombings that underscored the challenges of a U.S.-Iraqi security plan now in its third month. The victims included 17 Iraqis killed in a market in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood, where two car bombs exploded nearly simultaneously. As people fled the chaos, mortar rounds rained down. Fifty people were wounded.
Nine people were killed as they stood surveying the damage from a roadside bomb that had exploded in Baghdad's central Karada district. The bomb caused no casualties, but another one went off shortly afterward outside a smoothie shop, near where the crowd had gathered, causing the deaths and 17 injuries.
Five people were killed in Karada when a minivan exploded, and six Iraqis were killed in a Shiite neighborhood in southwest Baghdad when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a taxi.
The incidents all bore the hallmarks of the car bombings and suicide attacks blamed on Sunni Arab insurgents.
Political parties loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr blame the U.S. presence for the bloodshed, and al-Maliki faces a major blow if he loses their backing. The bloc holds six Cabinet positions and 28 seats in the parliament, where it has greatly bolstered the prime minister's Shiite-led alliance.
The bloc's ties to al-Maliki have helped ensure al-Sadr's cooperation with the security plan, despite the cleric's opposition to its U.S. enforcers. But continued attacks by suspected Sunni insurgents on Shiite targets, and the arrests of some al-Sadr militia leaders in the security sweep, could prompt at least some in the militia to take up arms again if they are no longer hamstrung by political considerations.
"It is true the American troops have helped the Iraqis in getting rid of Saddam and his regime. However, we have reached a point where there are no means of understanding between the Americans and the demands of the Iraqi people," Ghufran Saaidi, one of the bloc's members of parliament, said yesterday. "We have found that there is no use for our staying" in government.
The al-Sadr bloc leader, Nasser Rubaie, said as long as U.S. forces were in Iraq, the Iraqi government could not make decisions on how to safeguard Iraq.
The Iraqi "government has failed to carry out its duties and has been unable to build good Iraqi security forces" because of U.S. control, Rubaie said. "Security is still in the hands of the invaders."
Abu Firas Matyri said the bloc had no intention of giving up its parliament seats but would resign from the Cabinet because it did not want its ministers held responsible for the failure of the security plan and other problems. He said they hoped other political blocs would do the same.
The latest violence was not confined to the capital. In the northern city of Mosul, an Iraqi army official said four people, including two Iraqi soldiers, died when attackers tried to detonate car bombs inside a military base in the southern part of the city. Brig. Gen. Khalil Ahmad said one car bomb blew a hole in a concrete blast wall surrounding the base. A second car exploded short of its target, a building inside the base.
The U.S. military announced the deaths of three soldiers, including one who died yesterday when a patrol came under fire in southern Baghdad. North of Baghdad, two British soldiers died when two British military helicopters collided. The military said that the Puma transport helicopters were taking part in a U.S.-led mission and that the crash appeared to be an accident, not the result of hostile fire. The deaths brought to 142 the number of British soldiers killed in Iraq since March 2003, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks war-related deaths.
Tina Susman writes for the Los Angeles Times.