BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s parliament went into summer recess for a month on Monday after political leaders failed to agree on a series of laws that Washington sees as crucial to stabilizing the country.
Lawmakers said the government had yet to present them with any of the laws. The parliament had earlier signaled its intention to go into recess in August after cutting short its summer break that normally starts in July.
“We do not have anything to discuss in the parliament, no laws or constitutional amendments, nothing from the government. Differences between the political factions have delayed the laws,” Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman told Reuters.
The parliament is due to reconvene on September 4, just two weeks before the top U.S. general in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and Washington’s envoy to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, are due to report to Congress on the success of U.S. President George W. Bush’s new Iraq strategy and make recommendations.
White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, said the adjournment did not mean reconciliation work would halt.
“The process of reconciliation will not go on recess. Iraqi leaders will continue to work towards a political accommodation where Sunni, Shia and Kurd can all work together in the unity government.”
The recess leaves Bush with little to show Americans after sending nearly 30,000 more troops to Iraq to give Iraqi leaders breathing space to reach a political accommodation.
“Bush cannot realistically go to Congress and say he has to keep U.S. troops there because the Iraqi government is doing a good job — because the government is largely absent. It places him in a very difficult predicament,” said Gareth Stansfield, an analyst at leading British think-tank Chatham House.
Petraeus said commanders felt they would need a substantial force in Iraq at least until mid-2009.
“Sustainable security is, in fact, what we hope to achieve. We do think it will take about that amount of time ... to establish the conditions for it,” he told ABC News.
Washington has pressed the Iraqi government to speed up passage of laws that include measures to distribute Iraq’s oil reserves and ease restrictions on former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party serving in the civil service.
It views such laws as key to reconciling disaffected members of Iraq’s Sunni Arab community, once politically dominant under Saddam and now locked in a vicious sectarian conflict with majority Shi’ites that has killed tens of thousands.
A U.S. embassy spokesman said that during parliament’s recess it was important Iraq’s leaders “remained actively engaged on key legislation and trying to reach agreement on the sticking points”.
“In the absence of political agreement there was not much the parliament could have done. We will wait for the summit, which is expected to be next week,” said a senior Iraqi government official, referring to a planned crisis meeting of the country’s top Sunni Arab, Shi’ite and Kurdish leaders.
“We have a serious crisis but there are serious efforts to resolve it,” the official said, adding that the constitution allowed for parliament to be recalled from its summer break.
Cabinet approved the oil law, twice, but it has gone no further. It has been mired in disputes over how much authority regions and central government should have over oil reserves.
Easing the ban on Baathists faces stiff opposition from Shi’ite political parties, who fear a resurgence of Baathists who ruled the country for 35 years. Sunni Arabs say they are the main victims of the ban and are being targeted unfairly.
Bush is under mounting pressure from Democrats in Congress and rebels within his own Republican Party to begin pulling out U.S. troops soon. The April-June quarter was the costliest in American lives since the start of war in 2003, with 331 killed.
The U.S. military reported the deaths of three more soldiers on Monday, taking the death toll since the invasion to 3,651.
A preliminary White House assessment earlier this month faulted Iraqi leaders for failing to enact the laws, but analysts say Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government — a brittle coalition of Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds — is paralyzed by infighting.
Ministers loyal to fiery Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have pulled out of Maliki’s government, while the biggest Sunni bloc in parliament, the Accordance Front, is threatening to do the same this week if certain demands are not met.
A car bomb killed six people in a mainly Shi’ite area of Baghdad, ending a brief lull in violence, while Iraqis reveled in their soccer team’s Asian Cup triumph.
Additional reporting by Peter Graff, Aseel Kami and Paul Tait