Three government ministers who were already boycotting meetings of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Cabinet will formally quit the government, their bloc said yesterday.
The move by the secularist group of former prime minister Iyad Allawi deals a further blow to Maliki's efforts to rebuild a national unity coalition, which has been crumbling since the main Sunni Arab group and others walked out.
"The Iraqi List has decided to withdraw from the government and we will send a memo to the government to inform them of our stance at the beginning of next week," said a senior member of the bloc, Iyad Jamal al-Deen.
The bloc has five ministers in the government, three of whom were now quitting, while a fourth, the justice minister, had already resigned, he said. The fifth, a member of the Communist Party, was not participating in the walkout.
Jamal al-Deen said the bloc opposed the handing out of government jobs on sectarian lines and was now pulling out because Maliki had not responded to its call to end the practice.
The announcement came one day after the declassified findings of a US intelligence estimate gave a gloomy prognosis for Maliki's efforts at reconciliation.
"Levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance," said the findings, which 16 US intelligence agencies agreed on.
The new estimate also predicted that security improvements made over the past six months will erode if the US military narrows its mission to supporting the Iraqi security forces and fighting al-Qaeda.
The US intelligence community "assesses that the Iraqi government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months because of criticism by other members of the major Shia coalition" as well as Sunni and Kurdish parties, the new estimate warned.
The declassified judgments of the assessment were released by the office of the National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell.
Barring "a fundamental shift in factors driving Iraqi political and security developments," compromises needed for "sustained security, long-term political progress, and economic development are unlikely to emerge," the assessment said.
Iraqi leaders who are already "unable to govern effectively" will struggle to achieve national political reconciliation, it warned.
Changing the coalition's mission to focus on providing combat support for Iraq's security forces and fighting al-Qaeda "would erode security gains achieved thus far," it warned.
Just hours after the assessment came out on Thursday influential Republican Senator John Warner urged Bush to start a limited withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by Christmas.
The move would send a signal the Maliki administration and regional nations that the US commitment to Iraq is not open ended, said Warner, who returned recently from Iraq.
Meanwhile, 60 suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters hit national police facilities in a coordinated attacks in Samarra, sparking two hours of fighting that saw three people killed and more than a dozen insurgents captured, police said yesterday.
The masked attackers drove into the city at dusk on Thursday in about 20 vehicles, including pickups with machine-guns, then split into small groups and assaulted four police checkpoints and a headquarters building, a Samarra police official said.