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Five more ministers quit Iraq's Cabinet

Truck bombing kills 31 people in Shi'ite village

Iraqi police and US soldiers tried to maintain order around a fuel station yesterday in Baghdad. Meanwhile, in the northern city of Tal Afar, a suicide bomber killed at least 28 people, including 19 children. Iraqi police and US soldiers tried to maintain order around a fuel station yesterday in Baghdad. Meanwhile, in the northern city of Tal Afar, a suicide bomber killed at least 28 people, including 19 children. (damir sagolj/REUTERS)

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's political crisis deepened yesterday as five more ministers withdrew from Cabinet meetings, delivering a major blow to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's fractured unity government and efforts to reconcile Iraq's warring parties.

Hours earlier, a truck bomb in a Shi'ite village near the northern city of Tal Afar killed 31 people and wounded scores more, striking an area that was once hailed by President Bush and US military commanders as an oasis of stability, following US operations against insurgents there. Six children were among the dead, police said.

The US military also announced the deaths of six American soldiers, including four killed in an explosion yesterday in volatile Diyala Province, where US forces are engaged in a major offensive against Sunni insurgents. The blast wounded 12 other US soldiers, the military said in a statement. One other soldier was killed by a sophisticated roadside bomb in west Baghdad yesterday, and another was killed during combat in eastern Baghdad on Sunday, the military said.

Meanwhile, US and Iranian diplomats met in Baghdad to launch a new security committee in an attempt to bring stability to Iraq. The committee is a product of face-to-face talks the two sides have had in recent months, following nearly 30 years of diplomatic freeze.

"It is an established channel of communication and we will see in the future as to whether or not it is a useful channel of communication," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington.

The latest boycott by the five ministers, a mix of Sunnis and Shi'ites loyal to Iraq's former prime minister Ayad Allawi, followed last week's decision by the top Sunni political bloc to pull its six ministers from the Cabinet. Yesterday's action left the government, at least for the time being, without any politicians from Sunni factions in the Shi'ite-dominated Cabinet.

Legislators loyal to Allawi said the ministers would continue to run their ministries but not attend any Cabinet meetings. They cited as reasons for their action a lack of progress on issues such as the status of Iraqi detainees, the repatriation of displaced Iraqis, and the return of former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party to government jobs.

"This act is not an escalation but it is an objection to what the government is doing," Alia Nusaiyef Jasim, a legislator in Allawi's secular Shi'ite al-Iraqiyah bloc, told the Al-Jazeera television network. "The Iraqiyah bloc participated in the government on the basis of sharing in the decision-making, but the bloc is marginalized in the government."

In Qabak, 15 miles north of Tal Afar, police officials said the suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden truck carrying ice blocks into the village center and detonated it near a crowd that included women and children.

The small village, which has no police station or military barracks, was targeted because of its vulnerability, said Brigadier General Najim Abdullah, Tal Afar's mayor.

"The perpetrator of this act was aiming at raising the sectarian tension among the citizens, since Tal Afar is known for its sectarian and ethnic diversity," said Abdullah.

"There isn't a single house in the village which does not have someone killed or wounded in the bombing, because it took place in the center of the village," said Salih Al-Qaddo, director of Tal Afar's main hospital.

Hours later, another suicide truck bomb targeted an Iraqi army patrol in the northern city of Mosul, wounding 12 soldiers, said Major Khursheed Ahmad.

South of Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded in a bus station, killing eight people and wounding 10, police said.

In Baqouba, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, Iraqi security forces found 60 unidentified bodies in a mass grave. Most were shot, handcuffed, and showed signs of torture, said police. In Baghdad, police found 10 corpses yesterday.