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Iraq's Government in Crisis Over Maliki-Bush Meeting

The government of Iraq's embattled prime minister suffered another blow Wednesday when legislators and cabinet members loyal to an anti-American Shi'ite cleric suspended their participation to protest his meeting with President Bush. From northern Iraq, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more on the unfolding crisis.

Five Shi'ite Muslim cabinet members and 30 legislators loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to pull support from the government if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went to the Jordanian capital to meet with President Bush.

A few hours after Mr. Maliki arrived in Amman, lawmakers from the movement handed out a statement at their Sadr City headquarters confirming the boycott and saying they consider the visit a provocation.

Sadr loyalists make up a large bloc of support for Mr. Maliki, and if they formally withdraw from the government it could collapse.

The radical cleric also heads the Mehdi militia, which is believed to have some 60,000 fighters. Mr. Maliki has come under intense criticism for not cracking down on illegal militias, such as Sadr's.

Upon his arrival in Amman, Prime Minister Maliki did not mention the brewing political crisis at home.

Instead, he sounded a positive note, saying the United States is Iraq's partner and they are working on a new strategy to fix the security situation. Mr. Maliki said Iraq still required a lot of assistance from the Americans, especially in training its own security forces.

But the prime minister's optimistic comments were in marked contrast to the tone of a classified memo from White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The memorandum, which was leaked to The New York Times, expresses doubts that Prime Minister Maliki has the capacity to control the violence in Iraq.

The memo is quoted as saying the violence in Iraq suggests that Mr. Maliki is "either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his intentions into action."

Meanwhile, the violence continues.

In the religiously mixed Diyala province, northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. military said it killed eight suspected insurgents believed to be running a terrorist cell. Two Iraqi women were also found among the dead.

Clashes were also reported in the volatile western province of al-Anbar, where the U.S. military said one American soldier was killed.

Baghdad was not quiet either, with gunfire and explosions heard around the city. But it did not stop the genocide trial of former dictator Saddam Hussein and six of his lieutenants from continuing.

In the heavily protected Green Zone, forensic and medical experts testified for a second day about the deaths of an estimated 180,000 Kurds at the hands of the Iraqi military in 1988.

One expert witness, Dr. Asfandiar Shukri, told the court that during a series of examinations in 1991 of Kurdish refugees near the Turkish border, he had determined that mustard gas had been used against them.

"I personally examined the patient," he said. "She had Grade 2 asthma or difficulty breathing. She had a lot of scarring on her upper chest [that] followed the same geographic pattern of mustard gas."

All seven co-defendants face the death penalty if they are found guilty.