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Unknown Group Claims Responsibility for Killing President of Iraqi Council - 2004-05-17

A powerful suicide car bombing Monday near the coalition headquarters in Baghdad killed the current leader of the Iraqi Governing Council and at least four others, including the bomber. A previously unknown Iraqi group has claimed responsibility for the assassination.

Iraqi Governing Council President Abdel-Zahraa Othman, who is also known as Izzidin Salim, was traveling in a convoy of at least five vehicles when a car pulled up next to his car near a coalition checkpoint and exploded.

The Governing Council leader was on his way to the daily council meeting inside the so-called Green Zone, where the coalition headquarters is located. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where a witness says he saw Mr. Salim bleeding heavily from large shrapnel wounds to his face and throat. Doctors say Mr. Salim died at the hospital about two hours later.

A previously unknown group called the Arab Resistance Movement claimed responsibility for the assassination. The presidency of the Governing Council rotates monthly. Mr. Salim, a Shiite Muslim leader from the southern Iraqi city of Basra, became president on May 1. He was the second member of the council to be assassinated. His successor, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, called the killing "a tragedy," and told reporters Mr. Salim's death would not intimidate Iraqis, or prevent them from establishing a free and democratic country. ?We should all unify our efforts and our words to solidify our actions in chasing those criminals and paralyzing their hands, and to unify our energies for the building of a democratic and free Iraq, in which everybody enjoys prosperity and stability and political efficacy in a democratic and unified Iraq," he said.

Another Governing Council member, Sallama al-Khafaji, says council members believe the killing was carried out by foreign fighters, not ordinary Iraqis. She says the killing was similar to other suicide bombings orchestrated by Jordanian-born Islamic militant leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, who has claimed responsibility for more than two dozen bombings in Iraq in recent months.

?Yes, especially Zarqawi because (it's) like other actions which have been done the same way,? Mr. al-Khafaji said.

Coalition military spokesman, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt says there is a possibility that the group that claimed Monday's bombing could have ties to Abu Musab Zarqawi. In February, the United States doubled the reward for information leading to the death or capture of the militant leader from five million to ten million dollars.

Many Iraqis will say privately that they are tired of the bombings and want the militants and foreign fighters stopped. But that sentiment was not evident on the streets of Baghdad Monday afternoon.

One resident, who would only identify himself as Mohammed, said the Governing Council members have not been effective in fully restoring basic services or providing security for the Iraqi people. Mohammed says the council also should have done more to end the U.S. presence in Iraq.

?I don't care about the Governing Council or anything like this. Why? Because, you know, the electricity, the water,? he said. ?Many problems now between American forces and Fallujah city and more important, the problems between Americans and Moqtada al-Sadr, I think.?

Other Iraqis say Monday's killing of Izzidin Salim underscored the enormous risks the country still faces as it moves toward the transfer of power to a provisional Iraqi government at the end of next month.