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Iraqi council replaces slain leader

U.S. probes discovery of shell believed to contain sarin gas


BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A civil engineer from the northern city of Mosul was sworn in Monday to replace the assassinated leader of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

The council selected Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawar as president after a suicide bomber killed Izzedine Salim on Monday morning in Baghdad, rattling the U.S.-backed coalition as it prepares to hand over sovereignty of the country to Iraqis on June 30.

"We should all unify our efforts in our words and in our actions in chasing those criminals and paralyzing their hand and to unify our energy in working for a democratic and free Iraq," the new president said.

Al-Yawar, a Sunni Muslim who would have assumed the rotating council presidency June 1, will complete Salim's term and serve through the scheduled handover.

The attack on Salim occurred at a checkpoint near Baghdad's "Green Zone" -- home to Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters. The blast killed seven Iraqis and wounded five Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers, U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said. (Map)

A Shiite Muslim, Salim headed the Islamic Da'wah Movement in the southern city of Basra and was a key moderate on the 25-member governing council.

A senior coalition military official said the bombing had the hallmarks of an attack by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- an al Qaeda associate who has been tied to numerous strikes in Iraq. The official noted that al-Zarqawi-style attacks are typically a spectacular, symbolic suicide bombing.

Another governing council member, Aquila al-Hashimi, died after an attack in September.

International condemnation of Salim's assassination was widespread.

President Bush said: "Mr. Salim was a man of courage who risked his life in pursuit of a free, democratic, and prosperous Iraq.

"The terrorists know that a free Iraq will be a major defeat for the cause of terror, so they are trying to shake our confidence and will." (Full story)

More testing set for shell

Meanwhile, a U.S. convoy in Iraq found an artillery shell believed to have the makings of sarin -- a deadly nerve gas used in chemical weapons, the coalition said Monday.

A senior defense official said a preliminary field test had been completed on the shell, which will undergo further testing. Field tests sometimes yield false positives.

Kimmitt said the shell contained two chemicals which, when mixed during the flight of an artillery shell, formed the nerve agent.

He said the shell had been rigged as a makeshift bomb that resulted in a small dispersal of the agent when it exploded before an ordnance team could disarm it.

U.S. intelligence officials in Washington said the shell was discovered Saturday near the Baghdad International Airport.

"The area that was affected was very minor," Kimmitt said. "There's no need for any further decontamination. The [ordnance team] people who went up there showed some minor traces of exposure, but it was so minor the doctors already have these people released."

Kimmitt said the artillery round was of an old style that Saddam Hussein's regime had declared it no longer possessed after the Persian Gulf War.

Kimmitt said it appeared that whoever set up the roadside bomb was unaware that it contained the chemicals.

"It was a weapon we believed was stocked from the ex-regime time," Kimmitt said. "It had been thought to be an ordinary artillery shell, set up like an IED [improvised explosive device]. When it exploded, it indicated that it had some sarin in it."

The general said the Iraqi Survey Group, headed by Charles Duelfer, would determine if the shell's discovery indicated Saddam possessed chemical weapons before the U.S. invasion last year. Officials in Washington said another shell -- this one containing mustard gas -- was found 10 days ago in Iraq.

No other evidence of possible chemical weapons has been found in Iraq. The Bush administration cited weapons of mass destruction as a key reason for its invasion.

Other developments

  • An estimated 20 Iraqi fighters were killed Monday when coalition warplanes struck at five trucks believed to be carrying weapons to Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya, Kimmitt said. A coalition soldier was killed and seven others wounded in the fighting. Kimmitt said coalition forces continued to patrol Nasiriya despite a pullback by Italian forces to a more secure base on the city's outskirts. Kimmitt played down the significance of the withdrawal, saying the troops would be back.
  • Two U.S. service members were killed Monday while conducting security and stability operations in the western Al Anbar province, the U.S. military said. The deaths brought to 786 the number of U.S. troops who have died since the war began, 573 of them in hostile action. The military said the two service members were assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair has ruled out any "quick exit" from Iraq and vowed to keep British troops there until stability is restored. "We will continue until the job is done," Blair said after talks in Ankara with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. (Full story)
  • Two Russians abducted May 10 by guerrillas in Iraq have been freed on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, Russian news agency Interfax reports. Russian news reports Monday said the men identified themselves as Andrei Meshcheryakov and Alexander Gordiyenko.(Full story)
  • The United States has notified South Korea it plans to move 4,000 troops from the country to Iraq, a senior Pentagon official said Monday. The troops will come from the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division. It is not immediately known when the soldiers will move to Iraq.
  • The Abu Ghraib prison scandal was not the result of actions by a few misguided soldiers, but of a decision last year by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to expand a clandestine operation against al Qaeda to the treatment of prisoners in Iraq, according to a report in The New Yorker magazine. Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita sharply rejected the article's conclusions. "This is the most hysterical piece of journalist malpractice I have ever observed," DiRita said. (Full story)

CNN's Jane Arraf, David Ensor, Barbara Starr and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.

 
 
 
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