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Iraq Parliament On Recess; Marine Killed

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.

As the lawmakers adjourned, the U.S. military said a Marine had died Monday in fighting in the Anbar province west of Baghdad. Three U.S. soldiers were killed fighting in Anbar on Thursday. At least 3,652 members of the U.S. military have died since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

An Apache helicopter also went down Tuesday after coming under fire in a predominantly Shiite area in eastern Baghdad, but both crew members were safely evacuated, the military said.

In leaving parliament, many lawmakers blamed al-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 political and security benchmarks.

Those include a so-called oil law that would set out rules for foreign investment and the fair distribution of revenue to all of Iraq's sects and ethnic groups.

"We gave the government a good chance by continuing to sit in July. We can still return for an emergency session if that's required, but I don't think that this is necessary because the draft legislation is not complete," said Salem Abdullah, spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, the key Sunni bloc in parliament.

In other developments:

  • American casualties in July are the lowest since the troop surge began in February, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin, and civilian casualties are down by a third. U.S. officials attribute that to the dismantling of networks which make roadside bombs and to American soldiers protecting the local population. It would only take a few spectacular attacks to reverse those trends, but even critics of the war strategy are encouraged.
  • A small bus exploded Monday in a central Baghdad market district, killing at least six people and wounding doezens. Black smoke rose into the air after the blast struck a transit point near Tayaran Square, damaging several nearby cars and kiosks selling clothes, fruit and juice, police and hospital officials said. The minibus was one of several waiting for passengers heading to predominantly Shiite areas in eastern Baghdad.
  • Jurors were expected to hear testimony on Tuesday about troubling conditions for soldiers in Iraq when a court-martial for a Fort Campbell soldier facing rape and murder charges in the death of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and her family resumed. Pfc. Jesse Spielman, who is being tried on rape and murder charges, pleaded guilty Monday to lesser offenses as his court-martial began. The charges included conspiracy to obstructing justice, arson, wrongfully touching a corpse and drinking. (Read more)
  • President Bush's choice to head the military Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday an increase of troops in Iraq is giving commanders the forces needed to improve security there. "Security is better, not great, but better," said Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, speaking before the Senate Armed Services committee at his nomination hearing.
  • Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense chief Robert Gates are on a high-stakes diplomatic mission, trying to convince Iraq's neighbors to play a more helpful role in the war-torn country, and seeking to balance Iran's influence in the region. (Read more)
  • Iraq's army is making progress on training and recruiting, but a top American military commander says the country's outdated network for maintaining and repairing critical war-fighting gear is a major hurdle in the U.S. effort to fashion an independent Iraqi fighting force. Marine Corps Major General W.E. Gaskin says the troops themselves will be ready for sustained operations in about a year. But Gaskin adds that he's "not as optimistic about them being able to fix the logistics system."
  • In Washington, the State Department was unusually silent on the matter, declining to criticize the lawmakers for the break.

    "There's a lot of work to be done in Iraq," deputy spokesman Tom Casey said. "I'll leave it to the parliamentary leaders themselves to explain why this might be a good time to take a break."

    He said the United States would continue to push for work on critical legislation, including pieces like the oil law, during the vacation.

    "Whether the parliament is in session or not, I think we expect that all of Iraq's political leadership is going to be continuing to work on those kinds of issues and work out the kinds of compromises so that when the parliament does come back into session, there'll be something there for them to vote on and them to act on," Casey said.

    "This is not just about having the votes," he said. "It's about doing the work in advance so that there's actually legislation there that folks can agree on."

    Meanwhile, al-Maliki faces a revolt within his party by factions that want him out as Iraqi leader, according to officials in his office and the political party he leads.

    Ibrahim al-Jaafari, al-Maliki's predecessor, leads the challenge and already has approached leaders of the country's two main Kurdish parties, parliament's two Sunni Arab blocs and lawmakers loyal to powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

    Al-Jaafari's campaign, the officials said, was based on his concerns that al-Maliki's policies had led Iraq into turmoil because the prime minister was doing too little to promote national reconciliation.

    The former prime minister also has approached Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, proposing a "national salvation" government to replace the al-Maliki coalition. The Iranian-born al-Sistani refused to endorse the proposal, the officials said.

    "Al-Jaafari is proposing a national and nonsectarian political plan to save the nation," Faleh al-Fayadh, a Dawa party lawmaker familiar with the former prime minister's contacts.

    Other officials, however, said al-Jaafari had only an outside chance of replacing or ousting al-Maliki. But they said the challenge could undermine al-Maliki and further entangle efforts at meeting important legislative benchmarks sought by Washington.

    All the officials spoke of the sensitive political wrangling only on condition of anonymity.

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