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Suicide bomb kills Iraqi council chief
Updated: 2004-05-17 22:48

The head of the Iraqi Governing Council was killed in a suicide car bombing near a checkpoint outside the coalition headquarters in central Baghdad Monday, dealing a blow to US efforts to stabilize Iraq ahead of a handover of sovereignty on June 30.

Abdel-Zahraa Othman, commonly known as Izzadine Saleem, was the second member of the US-appointed council assassinated so far. He was among nine Iraqis, including the bomber, who were killed, Iraqi officials said.

U.S. soldiers survey the scene, following a car bomb explosion outside the U.S.-led coalition headquarters in Baghdad, May 17, 2004. [Reuters]

As council president, a rotating position, Saleem was the highest-ranking Iraqi official killed during the occupation.

A previously unknown group claimed responsibility Monday for killing the Iraqi Governing Council president, saying in a Web site posting that two of its fighters carried out the operation against "the traitor and mercenary Izzadine Saleem."

The claim from a group that identified itself as the Arab Resistance Movement was posted on an Internet site devoted to Iraqi issues and that opens with a map of Iraq cut from the old Iraqi flag.

"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.

Saleem, the name he went by most frequently, was a Shi'ite 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.

In a statement, L. Paul Bremer, the US administrator of Iraq, called the killing a "shocking and tragic loss."

Abdel-Zahraa Othman, commonly known as Izzadine Saleem

The new head of the Iraqi Governing Council, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, said the council would continue on "the march toward building a democratic, federal, plural and unified Iraq."

Al-Yawer said Saleem was on his way to a daily council meeting.

At the World Economic Forum in Southern Shuneh, Jordan, Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said the killing of Saleem shows that council members "are the prime targets of these terrorist attacks and those antidemocratic forces who want to deviate this process. And we will not be intimidated and we will continue the path of a new Iraq."

Ammar al-Saffar, an official at the Health Ministry, said the dead included five people in Saleem's entourage as well as two members of the Iraqi security forces. Fourteen Iraqis and an Egyptian were injured, he said.

Two US soldiers were also slightly injured in the suicide bombing, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. Three cars waiting in line at the headquarters were destroyed.

Abdul Razaq Abdul Karim, a gardener, was on the street near the checkpoint when a convoy with a police escort arrived moments before the blast. A red Volkswagen blew up in front of him.

"All I could see was a ball of fire rising into the air and there were body parts all around. We picked up the pieces and some of them were burned," he said.

Aquila al-Hashimi, another Shiite and one of three women on the 25-member body, was mortally wounded on September 20 when gunmen in a pickup truck ambushed her car as she drove near her Baghdad home. She died five days later.

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