- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded yesterday near coalition headquarters, killing four persons and wounding 25 in violence that U.S. authorities think was aimed at blocking the coming transfer of power. Four American soldiers were reported killed in other attacks.

Shi’ite leaders also urged U.S. troops to halt “aggressive patrolling” in a bid to save a tattered truce with a radical cleric’s militia in Shi’ite cities south of the capital.

Iraqi Governing Council members, meanwhile, accused U.S. officials of pressuring them to accept Washington’s choice for Iraq’s new president, delaying the announcement of a new government to take power from the U.S.-led coalition on June 30.

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi had hoped to complete the selection of the 26-member Cabinet by yesterday. But a Governing Council session that was to have chosen a president was postponed until at least today, with sharp differences remaining between the council and the coalition over the largely ceremonial head-of-state job.

“I hope [the decision] will be taken tomorrow,” Governing Council spokesman Hameed al-Kafaei said of the choice of president. “But then again, there is no sacred date, and it could take another day or two.”

Most council members favor civil engineer Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, 45, the current council president. The Americans are backing former Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi, 81. Both are Sunni Muslims.

Two council members said other candidates may be put forward to break the deadlock.

Yesterday’s blast took place in Baghdad’s Harithiyah district, about a half-mile from where the head of the Governing Council, Izzadine Saleem, was assassinated in a May 17 car bombing. U.S. officers said that no prominent political figures were in the area at the time and that they were uncertain of the target.

The dead included Sabiha Aref, 72, the sister of former Iraqi presidents Abdel-Salam Aref and Abdel-Rahman Aref, who served as head of state between 1963 and 1968. She was killed by flying glass while cooking lunch at home, a relative said on the condition of anonymity.

Four U.S. soldiers died over the weekend in separate attacks, including two killed during fighting in Kufa, where a five-day Shi’ite-negotiated truce between the Americans and cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia appeared to be unraveling.

Shi’ite leaders said Americans should end their “aggressive patrolling” and stay away from holy sites in Najaf and Kufa, Najaf Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi said. In exchange, those militiamen not from Najaf and Kufa would go home while others would keep off the streets.

Troubles emerged in the cities after coalition authorities cracked down on Sheik al-Sadr’s militia in April, closing his newspaper and announcing an arrest warrant against him in the killing of a rival cleric. Sheik al-Sadr’s supporters took to the streets, vowing to protect him.

A Task Force 1st Armored Division soldier died Sunday and two others were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded south of Baghdad, the military reported.

A Stryker Brigade soldier also died from wounds after a mortar attack on Saturday in the northern city of Mosul.

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