A key Shiite Muslim bloc in Iraq's government pledged Sunday to quit over Prime Minister Nouri 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 failings of a U.S.-Iraqi security plan now in its third month. The victims included 17 Iraqis killed in a crowded market in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood, where two car bombs exploded nearly simultaneously. As people fled the chaos, mortar rounds rained down on them. Fifty people were wounded.
Nine more 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 popular smoothie shop, near where the crowd had gathered, causing the deaths and 17 injuries.
Five people also were killed in Karada when a minivan exploded, and six were killed in a Shiite neighborhood in southwest Baghdad when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a taxi.
The above is from Tina Susman's "Shiite bloc may leave government" (Los Angeles Times). Staying on the topic of the al-Sadr bloc, this is from Edward Wong and Graham Bowley's "Iraqi Cleric Tells His Ministers to Quit" (New York Times):
Political followers of Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric, said today that their six cabinet ministers would quit their posts in government in protest at the refusal of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to set a timetable for American troops to withdraw from Iraq.
Reuters reports, " One analyst said Sadr could be acting to quell internal dissent over his support for a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown which has failed to stop car bombings blamed on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda that have targeted Shi'ite neighbourhoods in Baghdad.
And Kevin notes Jenny Deam's "Soldiers' choice: Fight or flight" (Denver Post):
Just before midnight July 4, 2006, as his fellow soldiers slept in the barracks, Justin Colby began to pack.
Fort Carson was quiet that time of night. Colby, two weeks shy of his 23rd birthday, felt his heart race as he stuffed clothes, a DVD player and his computer into a duffel bag. He left behind the fatigues, the bulletproof vest, the helmet, the trappings of a war he had signed up for but no longer believed in.
Colby's 2nd Infantry Division unit was heading west the next day for final training in California before being sent back to Iraq. But Colby went the opposite direction, driving 30 hours straight to his parents' house in rural Massachusetts, where he hid for two months before fleeing north to Canada.
Today he is a deserter living in Toronto, facing probable court-martial and up to five years in prison if he crosses back into the U.S.
While exact numbers are unknown, some say about 200 U.S. military deserters live in Canada. Some are underground. Others, like Colby, are seeking political refugee status in the Canadian courts, asking for permanent safe haven from a war they believe is no longer just and has turned criminal.
A soldier is considered a deserter after leaving his or her unit and staying away with the intent of not returning. Typically they are absent without leave, or AWOL, for up to 30 days before being designated a deserter.
Recently, though, the Army has had trouble identifying the number of its deserters. In late March it admitted to poor record keeping and to previously underreporting the number of soldiers who walked away.
Army figures released last week show 1,710 soldiers have deserted in the past six months. The numbers are rising as the war goes on: 3,101 walked away between October 2005 and October 2006; 2,659 walked away during the 12 months before.
I'm going through the e-mails (and still waking up), second entry will go up shortly.
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