Iraqi Council's Leader Is Slain
"History will remember the criminals forever for their shameful actions," he said. "We must always remember our martyr, as well as everyone who was martyred before."
Several council members wept openly in interviews even as they insisted that the planned handover should remain on schedule.
But council members also voiced frustration with the Americans for what they said was a failure to protect Iraqi political leaders or allow them more leeway to protect themselves. The killing increased pressure on U.S. officials to turn over more security responsibilities to Iraqi political parties, something they have been reluctant to do in a country deeply divided along sectarian and political lines.
Dan Senor, chief spokesman for the U.S. occupation authority, said the United States provides Iraqi council members with financial assistance, body armor, vehicles and training to ensure their security -- considerations that, he said, are "second to none."
Salim chose "to rely on cousins and nephews, which was his choice," Senor said. "And unfortunately, our records show that none of his personal security detail members ever participated in any of our training programs -- again, his choice."
In Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, much of the blame for Salim's assassination was attributed to the U.S. occupation and a Governing Council that many Iraqis consider a powerless American creation. Many people interviewed viewed the killing as part of an erosion of the security situation in much of the country.
From Mosul in the north to Basra, insurgents have been systematically killing Iraqi translators, municipal politicians, tribal sheiks and political leaders working with the occupation authority. The effect has been to isolate the authority from most Iraqis and the intelligence they could provide against the rising insurgency.
"If we had a real government, they would stop the Americans' behavior," said Shafaa Hamed, 41, who owns an electrical supply store in Baghdad's Kadhimiya neighborhood. "The Governing Council members are pawns, and Bremer moves them."
Salim was assassinated 100 yards from an entrance to the Green Zone, the U.S. compound on the grounds of Hussein's former Republican Palace. The blast rumbled through the city, and a column of black smoke washed over the skyline. Apache helicopters buzzed over the area, which was cordoned off with razor wire by U.S. and Iraqi troops.
The bomb charred 17 cars, including most of Salim's convoy. The trunks of nearby eucalyptus trees were blackened, and a small fire continued to burn in the passenger seat of Salim's SUV hours after the attack. Inside the blast crater, a U.S. soldier in rubber gloves picked though the debris for evidence.
Marwan Abta, 42, was getting into his car on his way to work when he saw Salim's convoy speed past. "We're used to seeing these things because of the checkpoint there," said Abta, an engineer. "But I was stunned when I heard the explosion."
Abta heard wailing inside his house moments after the blast, and ran to check on his wife and children. No one was injured, but glass was sprayed across his living room.
"We are in a critical situation," he said. "This is a crime because only civilians are killed. The killer does not have this right."
At Yarmouk Hospital a few miles away, several of the dead and many of the wounded arrived in the frantic ensuing hours. Adel Razzaq, 30, a taxi driver, was being treated for shrapnel in his face. He could not stop crying, although he said it was not from pain.
Razzaq said he and three passengers -- maintenance workers heading to jobs inside the Green Zone -- were in line two cars ahead of the Passat. The driver was honking his horn frantically, he recalled, before darting past his car.
Razzaq watched the Passat pass as he got out of his idling taxi for a cup of tea at a sidewalk stand 50 yards away. The explosion blew him to the ground a few moments later.
"I returned and they were dead, they died in my car," Razzaq said, weeping. "What is our fault? I don't think an Iraqi could do this."
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, chief spokesman for the U.S. military here, said the explosion bore "the classic hallmarks of what we've seen on Zarqawi attacks," referring to the Jordanian also implicated in the recent beheading of American businessman Nicholas Berg. Kimmitt cited its size, civilian targets and spectacular nature as indicators that Zarqawi could be involved.
At the same time, an organization calling itself the "Arab Resistance Group -- al-Rashid Brigades" asserted responsibility for Salim's killing in a statement posted on the Internet. It called Salim a "mercenary traitor" and vowed to fight on "until the liberation of Iraq and Palestine."
Correspondent Sewell Chan and special correspondents Bassam Sabti, Omar Fekeiki and Huda Lazim contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company