Violence Leaves Iraqis in Despair
Funeral Evokes Leaders' Anxiety About Transition
By Sewell Chan and Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 19, 2004; Page A01
BAGHDAD, May 18 -- Iraqi political leaders expressed anger and despair Tuesday over the inability of U.S. authorities to stem the relentless violence gripping Iraq as they paid tribute to the slain president of the country's Governing Council.
The assassination of Izzedin Salim in a suicide car bombing Monday appeared to have crystallized months of frustration with the U.S.-led occupation across the Iraqi political spectrum. In interviews after Salim's funeral, his colleagues on the council said the violence had imperiled efforts to form an interim government and, by extension, the future stability of Iraq with just six weeks before the nominal end of the occupation.
"If something is not done about this security situation, there will be no transfer of power," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the council.
Othman, who is generally pro-American, described the assassination as only the most extreme example of the lawlessness that has grown in the year since President Saddam Hussein was driven from power. "Never in Iraq has it been like this -- never, even under Saddam," he said. "People are killed, kidnapped and assaulted; children are taken away; women are raped. Nobody is afraid of any punishment."
Rajaa Habib Khuzai, a Shiite Muslim physician on the council, said, "The assassins gave a warning signal to every member of the Governing Council: We could be next."
The anger among Iraqis normally favorable toward the Americans' efforts in Iraq was expressed after a solemn memorial service for Salim, who was killed with six other Iraqis as they waited to enter the compound that houses the occupation headquarters.
In short, somber eulogies, Salim, a Shiite, was remembered for his long opposition to Hussein's rule. Shiites, who account for about 60 percent of Iraq's population, were persecuted under Hussein's Sunni Muslim-led government.
"We must continue the political process leading to an interim government next month and to elections next year," L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator of Iraq, told the gathering. "Izzedin Salim gave his life for this cause, and we honor his life and memory by continuing that quest."
Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy to Iraq who is helping form an interim government, said Salim "dedicated his life and his struggle for the sake of his country and his religion."
Salim, who was in his sixties, envisioned a country "where everyone extends his hand to each other," Brahimi said. "I believe this was his will. But first we must all work together to build the Iraq that Izzedin Salim sacrificed his life for."
A few hours after the service, which was closed to the public and shown on al-Iraqiya, the U.S.-sponsored television network, Brahimi met privately with Bremer. The two have consulted regularly, but Tuesday's meeting was scheduled hours after Salim's killing. Daniel Senor, a spokesman for Bremer, said security issues "may have come up today in passing" but were not the focus of the meeting.
"Clearly, security is uppermost on everyone's mind," said Ahmed Fawzi, a spokesman for Brahimi. "Apart from expressing concern, there's not much Mr. Brahimi can do about security. We're in the hands of the coalition."
Brahimi has held "intensive meetings over the past 10 days" with Iraqi leaders and hopes to announce a new government, preferably one composed of Iraqis with no ambitions to run in elections scheduled for next year, by the end of this month, Fawzi said.
"The security situation must improve before any arrangements can be made to organize the elections or hold them," Fawzi said. "Nothing can happen without security. It is the key."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Officials, diplomats and family members attend the funeral in Baghdad of Izzedin Salim, slain head of the Iraqi Governing Council. At far right is Ghazi Yawar, Salim's successor. Beside him are L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy.
(Damir Sagolj -- Reuters)