Baghdad shook with bombings and political upheaval Wednesday as the largest Sunni Arab bloc quit the government and a suicide attacker blew up his fuel tanker in one of several attacks that claimed 142 lives nationwide.
The Iraqi Accordance Front's withdrawal from the Cabinet leaves only two Sunnis in the 40-member body, undermining Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's efforts to pull together rival factions and pass reconciliation laws the United States considers benchmarks that could lead to sectarian reconciliation.
The U.S. military announced the deaths of four American soldiers, including three killed in Baghdad on Tuesday by a powerful armor-piercing bomb. Washington says these types of bombs are sent from Iran. The fourth soldier was killed by small arms fire on the same day. A British soldier also was killed Tuesday in a roadside bombing.
The American military announced it found a mass grave in Diyala province northeast of the capital. The grave contained 17 bodies of mostly Sunni Muslims - including women, children and elderly people - killed by al-Qaida in Iraq, the military said in a statement. U.S. forces did not say how they knew the attackers were al-Qaida in Iraq.
The violence came after July ended as the second-deadliest month for Iraqis so far this year, but with the lowest U.S. death toll in eight months.
Wednesday's deadliest attack occurred when a fuel tanker was exploded near a gas station in western Baghdad's primarily Sunni Mansour neighborhood. At least 50 people died and 60 were wounded, police said. The explosion was the work of a suicide attacker, they said.
Washington has been pushing Maliki's government to pass key laws - among them, measures to share national oil revenues and incorporate some ousted Baathists into mainstream politics. The Sunni ministers' resignation from the Cabinet - not the parliament - foreshadowed even greater difficulty in building consensus when lawmakers return after a monthlong summer recess.
Among the Accordance Front's demands: 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.
The Accordance Front has 44 of parliament's 275 seats, and those politicians will continue in the legislature.
Iraq I Key figures since the war began in March 2003
3,647 confirmed U.S. military deaths as of Aug. 1
27,104 confirmed U.S. military wounded as of Aug. 1
77 U.S. military deaths in July
1,001 deaths of civilian employees of U.S. government contractors as of June 30
66,000 estimated Iraqi civilian deaths. One controversial study last year put the number at 655,000
2,024 Associated Press estimate of Iraqi deaths in July
327 assassinated Iraqi academics
112 journalists killed on assignment
$10-billion cost of stepped-up military operations in Iraq per month, according to U.S. congressional analysis
$447-billion total cost to the U.S. government so far
2.58-million barrels per day, pre-war
2.06-million barrels per day, July 22
2-million estimate as of July 19
500,000 living abroad prewar
2-million or more in neighboring countries as of July 30
Bush asks Iraqi leader for progress
President Bush prodded Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday to unite rival factions and demonstrate overdue political progress. Bush and Maliki spoke for 45 minutes in a secure video conference, part of a regular series of conversations on the war and Iraq's struggling democracy.
Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday that it has begun talks with Iraq about opening an embassy, a move that could be a major boost to U.S. diplomacy and reconciliation efforts. Among Arab states, only Jordan maintains an embassy in Iraq; Egypt has a diplomatic mission but no diplomats in Baghdad after its ambassador was murdered.
A Camp Pendleton, Calif., jury found Marine Cpl. Marshall Magincalda guilty on Wednesday of conspiracy to murder an Iraqi man, but acquitted him of premeditated murder and kidnapping in a bungled attempt to kill a suspected insurgent last year. Magincalda also was found guilty of larceny and housebreaking, and cleared of making a false official statement. A separate jury continued to deliberate in the case of his squad leader, Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, who faces the same charges.