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."
Senor said Salim's assassination would not affect the U.S. vow to hand over limited political power on June 30. "American credibility certainly would be injured in the region if we made this promise that we've been quite vocal about and then we broke it or postponed it," he said.
The security threat has increased pressure on U.S. officials to take new steps to corral a potent insurgency in the Sunni Triangle north and west of the capital and in the Shiite-populated south.
U.S. officials have described the insurgency as a mix of groups, including former members of Hussein's now-outlawed Baath Party, Shiite extremists and foreign fighters.
While ideologically disparate, the groups are united by a common American enemy. Iraqi and U.S. officials agree that the chief goal of the resistance is to destabilize Iraq, either for political gain or to force a U.S. retreat.
The Arab Resistance Group-al-Rashid Brigades, a largely unknown organization, asserted responsibility for Salim's assassination and posted on a Web site the names of two men it said carried out the bombing.
The names -- Ali Jubouri and Mohammed Hassan Samarrai -- are common in Sunni regions, and there was no way to verify the claims. But it appeared to be the first time individuals had been praised for a suicide attack in Iraq, evoking the celebration of martyrdom practiced by Palestinian militant groups.
Interior Minister Samir Shakir Mahmoud Sumaidy, who oversees the Iraqi police force, said a team of investigators, assisted by FBI agents, had begun looking into the bombing.
Sumaidy implored Iraqis with information about the attack to come forward. "It's clear that the intelligence we have is not adequate," he acknowledged.
In an interview after the funeral service, the Governing Council's new president, Ghazi Yawar, said Iraq had no choice but to rely on the U.S. military for protection. "We look forward to the day when Iraqi forces will be able to take up the question of security in their own hands," he said. "But we must be realists, because we still need the assistance of the coalition forces."
The dominant emotion in the council, however, was a sense of helplessness.
"Security is problem number one," Othman, the Kurdish council member, said in an interview. "Any Iraqi will say, 'Please give us security.' Even food is secondary. He wants to go out. He wants his children to go to school without problems. We have to change this situation before anything else."
Othman said Iraq's police and security services needed adequate funds, facilities and equipment to do their jobs. Other than that, he said, the U.S. authorities should leave recruitment, training, intelligence-gathering and decision-making on internal security to Iraqis.
Othman said U.S. soldiers should not be policing Iraqi cities, towns and villages and were ill-equipped to do the job effectively. "They capture people at random, put them in Abu Ghraib and then set them free," he said, referring to the U.S.-run prison west of Baghdad. "It's a big failure, their security policy -- they should confess to it."
Hamid Kifaie, a Governing Council spokesman, said many members believed that the Americans have bungled security and that Iraq's long-term stability is in jeopardy. Kifaie, who was in exile in Britain for 23 years during the rule of Hussein and his Baath Party, said he was not optimistic.
"Baathists are still about. They are working freely, and we have not managed to have a base for the new regime," he said. "What we need is more financial support for the police and intelligence services."
Kifaie conceded that the council had not offered specific alternatives to U.S. control over Iraqi security, but maintained that the members were never given a say. "The Governing Council would have put forward a plan, but the council was sidelined, so what's the point?" he said.
Special correspondent Khalid Saffar contributed to this report.