The head of the Iraqi Governing Council was killed in a suicide car bombing near a U.S. checkpoint in central Baghdad on Monday, dealing a blow to U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq ahead of a handover of sovereignty on June 30.
Six Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers were injured in the bombing near the coalition headquarters, which is called the Green Zone. Three cars waiting in line at the headquarters were destroyed.
Abdel-Zahraa Othman, also known as Izzadine Saleem, was among four Iraqis killed in the blast, according to Redha Jawad Taki, a member of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite Muslim organization.
Two other well-known council members, Adnan Pachachi and Ahmad Chalabi, reportedly escaped the blast because their cars had made it inside the compound — safely behind the concrete blast barriers, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Acosta.
Othman was the second member of the U.S.-appointed council to be assassinated. Aquila al-Hashimi was killed in September.
In other developments: A published report says President Bush received a memo concerning prisoners' rights within months of Sept. 11, 2001. Newsweek quotes the memo as saying the Geneva Conventions' interrogation guidelines are "obsolete" in the face of terrorism.. Fighting persists in the Shiite heartland in southern Iraq, where American jets bombed militia positions in the city of Nasiriyah early Monday after fighters loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr drove Italian forces out of a base there. Residents said seven fighters were killed in overnight battles. U.S. jets also bombed targets in Karbala, and there were clashes in the city, witnesses said. The bodies of six militiamen were seen in the streets on Monday. There were intermittent blasts and gunfire overnight in Najaf, another southern city where al-Sadr supporters and American forces have fought in recent days. The new U.S.-appointed governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zurufi, said Monday that unidentified assailants killed his uncle, Kadhim Abbas al-Zurufi. Gunmen fired on a minibus Sunday, and then detonated explosives in it, killing two Iraqi women who worked for the U.S.-led coalition, and assailants in a southern city killed a coalition translator and critically injured another, police and witnesses said. The Arab news network Al-Jazeera broadcast footage Sunday of two Russian hostages held in Iraq and read a statement from a group demanding that foreign troops withdraw from the country. The brief footage showed the two men, seemingly in good health, sitting against a wall. One of the men was drinking out of a metal cup as the other sat nearby. The men, who were seized Monday, seemed to be talking with other people, who were not shown.In Basra, assailants fired a mortar shell that landed on a house near a British military base, killing four Iraqi civilians, including 2-year-old twin girls, and wounding four others, witnesses said. All were from the same family. In London, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the government is still considering the dispatch of more troops to Iraq, but no decision has been made. Prime Minister Tony Blair said this month that Britain was discussing with the United States the possibility of sending more troops to different areas of Iraq following the withdrawal of Spanish, Honduran and Dominican troops. Britain has 7,500 troops in southern Iraq.The United States is looking to move some of its 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea to bolster forces in Iraq, South Korean and U.S. officials said. A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said any shift in troops from South Korea would be part of the next rotation of American troops in Iraq, set to begin late this summer.
Saleem, the name he went by most frequently, was a Shiite and a leader of the Islamic Dawa Movement in the southern city of Basra. He was a writer, philosopher and political activist, who served as editor of several newspapers and magazines. The position of council head rotates monthly.
As the current council president, a rotating position, Saleem was the highest-ranking Iraqi official killed during the U.S.-run occupation. His death occurred about six weeks before the United States plans to transfer power to Iraqis and underscores the risks facing those perceived as owing their positions to the Americans.
L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, denounced the bombing as a "vile act" and a "shocking and tragic loss."
"The terrorists who are seeking to destroy Iraq have struck a cruel blow with this vile act today," he said. "But they will be defeated...The Iraqi people will ensure that his vision of a democratic, free and prosperous Iraq will become a reality."
Members of the Governing Council condemned the killing and vowed not to be intimidated.
In a statement read to reporters, Saleem's successor, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, pledged the council's resolve in the face of the terrorist threat.
He said the council would "not deviate from the march to which he devoted his life — the march of glory, happiness and freedom for our people...the march toward building a democratic, federal, plural and unified Iraq."
"The Iraqi leaders are the main targets of those terrorists and anti-democratic forces, and we will not be intimidated from continuing our path to build a new Iraq," said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Southern Shuneh, Jordan.
One member, Salama al-Khafaji, said the bombing appeared to be an effort to foment sectarian divisions in Iraq and disrupt the transfer of political power. Another member, Naseer Kamel al-Chaderchi, blamed the bombing on the same groups that have conducted other attacks, including a bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad last year that killed 22 people, including U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.
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