BAGHDAD, May 17 -- The president of the Iraqi Governing Council was killed early Monday in a huge explosion set off by a suicide bomber outside the headquarters of the U.S.-led occupation authority here.
At least 10 Iraqis were killed and six were wounded, and two U.S. soldiers were slightly injured, in a devastating attack on Iraq's political leaders six weeks before the scheduled handover of limited political power to a new Iraqi government.
The explosion killed Izzedine Salim, who had held the rotating presidency of the Governing Council since May 1 and was a leader of the Islamic Dawa Party, one of the most influential Shiite Muslim political factions in Iraq.
A veteran political activist, Salim had edited numerous newspapers and magazines and had his base in the southern city of Basra, the second largest city in Iraq.
Witnesses said a convoy of five white Nissan vehicles was passing through the Harthiya neighborhood toward a checkpoint into the Green Zone, where U.S. authority and the Governing Council have their headquarters, when a red Volkswagen Brazil sped up to the convoy and exploded.
The blast was so forceful that it flung the car Salim was apparently riding in on to the other side of the street. It left 17 charred and burning vehicles on both sides of the median.
"I saw five burned bodies, completely burned," Mohammed Leith, 21, who lives about 100 yards from the explosion. "The one who did this is creating chaos. He only killed Iraqis. Even the Governing Council members are Iraqis too."Leith said that the street had never been the target of such an explosion before, but he said that U.S. soldiers discovered and safely defused an improvised explosive device, or roadside bomb, on the street about three weeks ago.
The top military spokesman in Iraq, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, said at the scene that the cars were in line to get through the checkpoint and enter the Green Zone at the moment of the attack, but witnesses said they believed the cars were still moving.
Salim is the second member of the 25-member Governing Council to be assassinated. Akila Hashimi, who was one of three female members of the U.S.-appointed advisory body, was fatally injured during a gunfire attack on her convoy near her Baghdad home on Sept. 20, and she died five days later.
Salim had advocated in recent days for a continued role for the Governing Council, which has struggled for popular legitimacy since U.S. officials created it last summer. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has proposed abolishing the council on June 30, when the U.S. occupation is to formally end, and replacing it with a caretaker government of technocrats.
"We shall listen to the ideas of Mr. Brahimi, but his ideas are not compulsory for us," Salim said this month "The Governing Council is the one responsible for forming the government."
- By Scott Wilson and Sewell Chan