Car bomb kills Iraqi Governing Council leader

posted 2004-05-17 08:52:00 by doug

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The current president of the Iraqi Governing Council was among several people killed Monday in a suicide car bombing near Baghdad's Green Zone, a council official said.

According to Iraqi Governing Council sources, council President Izzedine Salim was on his way into the Green Zone, which houses coalition headquarters, when he was killed.

The blast killed four to six Iraqis, U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said, and wounded eight -- six Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers.

The explosion occurred about 9:45 a.m. about 200 meters (656 feet) west of coalition checkpoint No. 12.

Thick, black smoke billowed over central Baghdad after the blast. The burning wreckage of several cars could be seen in video from the scene.

Kimmitt said it appears artillery rounds were packed into the back of the car that exploded.

The presidency of the governing council is a rotating position.

After the blast, the governing council selected Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, a Sunni Muslim from the northern city of Mosul, to replace Salim as its president.

Al-Yawer, a civil engineer, was due to assume the IGC's rotating presidency June 1. He will serve until the handover of sovereignty to a new Iraqi government on June 30.

It was not known if Salim was targeted by the bomber.

The senior coalition military official said the bombing had the hallmarks of a Zarqawi-like attack. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is an al Qaeda associate and has been tied to numerous attacks in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, including last week's beheading of American Nicholas Berg.

Salim, also known as Abdul Zahra Othman Mohammed, was the head of the Islamic Da'wah Movement, based in Basra.

"This is a very, very sad day for the Iraqis and for Iraq," said Adnan Ali of the Islamic Da'wah Party. "We have lost a great member."

Ali said he thinks it is likely that Salim was the target of this attack, rather than just happening to be at the checkpoint by coincidence.

"This is a very dangerous point and they can target any [governing council] member who leaves from the residence and enters into the Green Zone."

A Shiite, Salim was the editor of numerous newspapers and magazines, and was a moderate political activist.

Salim is the second member of the governing council to have been killed in an attack.

Aquila al-Hashimi died in late September from wounds suffered in an ambush near her Baghdad home on September 20.

Also a Shiite Muslim, she was the leading candidate to become Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations.

"What this shows is that the terrorists and insurgents in Iraq are trying to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power from the occupiers to the Iraqi people," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. "These terrorists are the enemies of the Iraqi people themselves."

Increasing violence in Iraq has led some to question the wisdom of the scheduled June 30 handover of sovereignty from the Coalition Provision Authority to an interim Iraqi government.

Kimmitt said the transfer of power must stay on track.

"Days like today convinced us even more so that this must stay on track -- absolutely affirms that the process of handing over sovereignty to the people of Iraqi must happen," he said. "Days like today, rather than derailing us from that process, actually affirm the wisdom and prudence of that transfer of authority."

South of Baghdad, a U.S. soldier was killed Sunday and two others wounded in a firefight, the Coalition Public Information Center said.

All three soldiers were members of Task Force 1st Armored Division.

A U.S. soldier looks at smoldering debris after the car bombing Monday in Baghdad.

Coalition forces, including the 1st Armored Division, have been battling radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia in Karbala, Najaf and in the southern city of Nasiriya.

Since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 784 U.S. troops have died, 571 under hostile circumstances.

In South Korea, meanwhile, a foreign ministry official said Monday the United States is planning to shift some of its troops from South Korea to Iraq.

"The United States has informed us that it needs to take some of the U.S. troops in South Korea and send them to Iraq because of the worsening situation there," said Kim Sook. (Full story)

Interim government likely won't oust troops

Iraq's interim government, slated to take charge in 45 says, will have the authority to order coalition troops to leave, but a member of the Iraqi Governing Council said Sunday it is unlikely to do so.

"Until we have the means and we have enough Iraqi forces to confront the danger of the al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, I think we'll probably be needing external help," Adnan Pachachi said.

After the handover of sovereignty, the multinational force will be in the country "with the approval of the Iraqi government, and anything it does has to be done in consultation with the Iraqi government and with its approval," Pachachi told CNN's "Late Edition."

Secretary of State Colin Powell raised eyebrows last week when when he said troops from the U.S.-led coalition would leave Iraq after the handover if the new interim government made that request. But he also said he believed such an order was unlikely.

Pachachi said murder charges against al-Sadr may be "postponed" as part of a deal to defuse a standoff between coalition forces and al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia.

"My understanding is there are some efforts being made still to defuse the crisis and try to let Muqtada al-Sadr dismantle his Mehdi Army and perhaps also surrender its weapons," Pachachi said.

"It's quite possible, also, that the legal proceedings against him may be postponed for a while if he complies with the other conditions. This is what I heard."

Coalition troops fighting the Mehdi militia in the Baghdad area, near Amarah and in Karbala have killed 41 insurgents over the past 36 hours, coalition officials said. Clashes with the militia in those cities have been going on five days.

Early Sunday, a rocket aimed at a Basra hotel housing the British military missed its target and struck a nearby house, killing three Iraqi civilians inside, according to an Iraqi police official in the southern Iraq city.

In the northern city of Mosul, a mortar or a rocket-propelled grenade struck a line of Iraqi civilians lined up outside an army recruitment center, killing four recruits and wounding 15 others.

Coalition officials have predicted an increase in insurgent attacks as the June 30 sovereignty handover approaches.

Other developments

The Arabic news network Al Jazeera aired pictures Sunday of what it said were two Russian electrical workers taken hostage by an Islamic group last week in Dura, south of Baghdad. A statement from a group calling itself Jaish al-Tifa al-Mansoura, the Army of the Victorious Sect, said it was holding the men. (Full story)

An uncle of Nafaj's newly installed governor was shot dead Sunday inside his home, coalition and Iraqi officials told CNN. The incident took place in Kufa, just outside Najaf, an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority said in Baghdad. Sources close to Najaf Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi said the killers knocked on the uncle's door and when he answered shot him three times. His wife witnessed the attack, they said, but was not harmed.

The Abu Ghraib prison scandal was not the result of a few misguided soldiers, but of a decision last year by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to expand a clandestine operation against al Qaeda to the treatment of prisoners in Iraq, according to a report in The New Yorker. Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita sharply rejected the author's conclusions, calling the assertions "outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture." (Full story)

The Arab world should be showing "a higher level of outrage" over the death of Nicholas Berg, an American businessman whose beheading was posted on an Islamist Web site last week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday. (Full story)

Italy has asked the United States to halt major assaults against Iraqi holy cities and mete out tough punishment on soldiers found guilty of torture, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Sunday. (Full story)

U.S. troops have taken over operations at the Spanish military base in south-central Iraq, allowing Madrid's forces to prepare their withdrawal from the country, Spain's Defense Ministry said Sunday. (Full story)

CNN's Jane Arraf and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.