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IRAQI PARLIAMENT TAKES A BREAK

Members adjourn for August despite a looming deadline to report to Congress.

Iraq's Parliament on Monday shrugged off U.S. criticism and adjourned for a month, as key lawmakers declared there was no point waiting any longer for the prime minister to deliver Washington-demanded benchmark legislation for their vote.

Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani closed the final three-hour session without a quorum present and declared lawmakers would not reconvene until Sept. 4. That date is just 11 days before the top U.S. military and political officials in Iraq must report to Congress on American progress in taming violence and organizing conditions for sectarian reconciliation.

The recess, coupled with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's failure to get the key draft laws before legislators, may nourish growing opposition to the war among U.S. lawmakers, who could refuse to fund it.

Critics have questioned how Iraqi legislators could take a summer break while U.S. forces are fighting and dying to create conditions under which important laws could be passed in the service of ending sectarian political divisions and bloodshed.

But in leaving Parliament, many lawmakers blamed Maliki.

"Even if we sit next month, there's no guarantee that important business will be done," said Mahmoud Othman, a prominent Kurdish legislator. The Parliament had already extended its session by a month, having initially planned a recess for July and August.

"There are Iraqi-Iraqi and Iraqi-American differences that have not been resolved," Othman said of the benchmark legislation. "The government throws the ball in our court, but we say that it is in the government's court and that of the politicians. They sent us nothing (to debate or vote)."

The September reports by Ambassador Ryan Crocker and U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus were to assess progress by the Iraqi government and its security forces on 18 benchmarks.

In Washington, the State Department was unusually silent on the matter, declining to criticize the lawmakers.

"I'll leave it to the parliamentary leaders themselves to explain why this might be a good time to take a break," deputy spokesman Tom Casey said.

THE LATEST

Also Monday

- Living conditions in Iraq have deteriorated steeply since the invasion in 2003, leaving nearly one-third of the population in need of emergency aid, a consortium of relief organizations said Monday in a report. Seventy percent of Iraqi residents lack adequate water supplies, compared with 50 percent in 2003, while more than 4-million people have been displaced in that time. Yet funding for humanitarian assistance in Iraq has declined, from $453-million in 2005 to $95-million in 2006.

-The U.S. military said three soldiers were killed in fighting in Anbar province west of Baghdad on Thursday. At least 3,651 members of the U.S. military have died since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

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