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Deadly Iraq Bombing A Blow To U.S.

A suicide bombing killed the head of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council as his car waited at a checkpoint near coalition headquarters Monday, a major setback to American efforts to stabilize Iraq just six weeks before the handover of sovereignty.

Izzadine Saleem, also known as Abdel-Zahraa Othman, was waiting in a Governing Council convoy at a U.S. checkpoint along a tree-lined street preparing to enter the Green Zone when the bomb was detonated. It apparently had been rigged with artillery shells and hidden inside a red Volkswagen.

Iraqi officials said nine people, including the bomber, were killed and 14 Iraqis and an Egyptian were wounded in Monday's attack. Kimmitt put the death toll at seven. Two U.S. soldiers were slightly wounded.

Iraqi and coalition officials vowed that the power transfer would take place on June 30, as scheduled, despite the attack.

Secretary of State Colin Powell called Saleem an Iraqi patriot. "Terrorist may have taken his life, but they will never be able to kill his dreams or those of the Iraqi people."

In other developments:

  • A roadside bomb containing sarin nerve agent exploded near a U.S. military convoy, but there were no casualties, the U.S. military said Monday. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said the bomb was an old type of artillery shell, of the type that Baghdad claimed to have destroyed before the 1991 Gulf War.
  • The Pentagon is moving 3,600 U.S. soldiers from bases in South Korea to the conflict in Iraq this summer. Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division will rotate into Iraq on one-year tours, senior Pentagon officials said Monday.
  • Two 1st Marine Expeditionary Force members were killed in action Monday in Iraq's Anbar province.
  • Two Russian hostages were freed in Iraq after a week in captivity, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday. The men were in good health, the ministry said in a statement. The statement said the release came after work by the Russian Embassy in Baghdad and Iraqi political and religious figures.
  • Secretary of State Colin Powell scolded Arab governments Sunday for not expressing more outrage over the videotaped beheading of an American civilian in Iraq.
  • The White House on Monday was battling published reports detailing possible links between alleged mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners and policy decisions in the White House and Pentagon. Meanwhile, the lawyer for one of the soldiers charged with abusing detainees says his client is blameless in the affair.
  • An Italian soldier died Monday of wounds suffered during an attack on the base of the Carabinieri paramilitary police the day before in Nasiriyah. The soldier is the 20th Italian to die in Iraq, after a suicide truck bomb in Nasiriyah killed 19 on Nov. 12.
  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, under pressure to demonstrate progress in Iraq, said Monday it wanted Iraqis to take control of the country's security as soon as possible. Officials continue to insist that British troops will stay until the country is stable. But Monday's briefing marked a clear shift in emphasis as pressure mounts on Blair to demonstrate he has a clear exit strategy from Iraq.
  • NATO may yet agree to take a military role in Iraq when its leaders meet for a summit next month, despite continued opposition from several European allies, the alliance's secretary general said Monday.

    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.

    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."

    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.

    Saleem was the second member of the U.S.-appointed council to be assassinated. Aquila al-Hashimi was killed in September.

    L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, denounced the bombing as a "vile act" and a "shocking and tragic loss."

    The claim from the Arab Resistance Movement was posted on an Internet site devoted to Iraqi issues. The Web site carried other messages of praise for the killing.

    "Two heroic members of the Arab Resistance Movement, Al-Rashid Brigades — and they are Ali Khaled al-Jabouri and Mohammed Hassan al-Samaraei — carried out a qualitative heroic operation" that killed Saleem, the statement said.

    It said the group will continue its "jihad" or holy war until Iraq and Palestine are liberated.

    Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born militant, is believed responsible for many of the vehicle bombs in recent months and for the death of U.S. civilian Nicholas Berg, whose decapitation was videotaped and posted on the Web last week.

    Meanwhile, fighting persisted 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 a day earlier. Residents said seven fighters were killed in overnight battles.

    U.S. jets also bombed targets in Karbala, witnesses said. The bodies of six militiamen were seen in the streets on Monday. There were intermittent blasts and gunfire overnight in Najaf, al-Sadr's base of operations.

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