Iraq's parliament decided on Monday to begin a month-long recess despite pressure from the United States to press forward with key U.S.-backed legislation supposed to promote national reconciliation, MPs said.
Around 150 members of the 275-strong body attended a session and agreed to go on a break until September 4, just days before the U.S. Congress is to receive a report on Iraq's progress toward reunifying its warring communities.
Lawmakers defended the decision, however, saying the recess was a constitutional requirement and that Iraq's coalition government had not presented any legislation to the house due to internal turmoil.
"There are no bills to pass…There's no indication that anything is coming to us, and it's in the government's hands. Why should we suspend the recess?" Kurdish lawmaker Mahmud Othman said to AFP.
Six Sunni ministers are boycotting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government, demanding more say in decision-making, and they threaten to pull out altogether if their demands are not met by Wednesday.
The decision to suspend parliament, although expected, is a blow to American policy in Iraq, where U.S. military commanders and diplomats are pushing local officials to speed up reforms they hope will calm sectarian tensions.
U.S. commander General David Petraeus and ambassador Ryan Crocker are due to present a report on their progress in September and had hoped to point to some legislative progress, which now seems impossible to achieve.
Meanwhile, relief agencies said Monday that about 8 million Iraqis -- nearly a third of the population -- need immediate emergency aid because of the humanitarian crisis caused by the Iraq war.
Those Iraqis are in urgent need of water, sanitation, food and shelter, said the report by Oxfam and the NGO Coordination Committee network in Iraq.