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:
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.