Iraqi Governing Council President Killed in Attack
At Least 7 Iraqis Killed, 5 Wounded in Suicide Bomb Attack
By Scott Wilson and Sewell Chan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 17, 2004; 5:57 PM
BAGHDAD, May 17 -- The president of the Iraqi Governing Council was killed early Monday in a huge explosion set off by a suicide bomber outside the headquarters of the U.S.-led occupation authority here.
At least seven Iraqis were killed and five were wounded, and two U.S. soldiers were slightly injured, in a devastating attack on Iraq's political leadership six weeks before the scheduled handover of limited political power to a new Iraqi government.
The explosion killed Izzedine Salim, who had held the rotating presidency of the Governing Council since May 1 and was a leader of the Islamic Dawa Party, one of the most influential Shiite Muslim political factions in Iraq.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said the blast occurred at 9:55 a.m. near a U.S. checkpoint when a vehicle packed with explosives drove alongside Salim's convoy. He said there were no other members of the Iraqi Governing Council in the convoy.
The attack came on a day of widespread skirmishing between forces of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Iraqi rebels, including militiamen of a radical Shiite Muslim cleric, Moqtada Sadr. In one of the reported clashes -- in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah -- a U.S. warplane struck five vehicles that were being used to transport ammunition, killing 20 militiamen, Kimmitt said. The air strike followed multiple militia attacks on positions of Italian troops and Iraqi police in Nasiriyah. One Italian soldier was reported killed and seven wounded in the attacks.
In the Shiite Muslim shrine city of Karbala, Polish forces reported that 30 Sadr militiamen were killed after staging attacks from the renowned Imam Hussein shrine and from the city's Iranian quarter. Kimmitt said Karbala residents were "overwhelmingly supportive" of coalition efforts to put down the militia's rebellion.
Kimmitt said initial evidence gathered from the attack on Salim indicated that artillery rounds were "daisy-chained" inside the suicide bomber's vehicle, creating a massive blast. He said the "first impression" of U.S. authorities is that the bombing was the work of Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist who claims to have ordered numerous suicide attacks against U.S. forces, Iraqis affiliated with them and Shiite Muslims. Zarqawi, a radical Sunni Muslim linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network, has sought to incite warfare between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, according to a letter seized by U.S. forces. He also has been implicated in the recent beheading of an American civilian, Nicholas Berg.
An organization calling itself the "Arab Resistance Group -- al-Rashid Brigades" claimed responsibility for Monday's attack in a statement posted on the Internet, saying two of its "hero members" had carried out "the heroic operation which led to the death of the mercenary traitor Izzedine Salim." The group vowed to fight on "until the liberation of Iraq and Palestine."
Kimmitt told reporters, "We don't know if that's a cover for the Zarqawi network or if it's an actual organization. But the fact remains this is the classic hallmarks of what we've seen on Zarqawi attacks."
President Bush hailed Salim as "a man of courage who risked his life" for democracy, and he vowed that the assassination would not deter the United States from transferring political power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30.
"The terrorists know that a free Iraq will be a major defeat for the cause of terror, so they are trying to shake our confidence and will," Bush said in a statement. He said those efforts would fail.
A veteran political activist, Salim had edited numerous newspapers and magazines and had his base in the southern city of Basra, the second largest city in Iraq. In a statement, L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, called the killing 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."
Witnesses said a convoy of five white Nissan vehicles was passing through the Harthiya neighborhood toward a checkpoint into the Green Zone, where U.S. authority and the Governing Council have their headquarters, when a red Passat-type Volkswagen sped up to the convoy and exploded.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company