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Another Iraqi official assassinated as handover nears

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The second Iraqi government official in as many days was assassinated on Sunday; a suicide car bomber killed at least 12 Iraqis and wounded 13 in Baghdad; and one American soldier was killed and four were wounded by a roadside bomb on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital.

A little more than two weeks before the U.S.-led coalition is scheduled to return limited sovereignty to a new interim Iraqi government on June 30, the United States and its Iraqi allies are battling Saddam Hussein loyalists, foreign terrorists and Islamic extremists for control of Iraq.

Speaking on CNN's "Late Edition," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the insurgents are trying "to shake the will of the new interim government," and vowed: "They're not going to succeed."

Senior Iraqi government officials said they expect even more violence.

"I think it will increase until June 30, but we are ready to face them," said Kasim Daoud, one of three Iraqi ministers of state.

By handing power to the new Iraqi government, U.S. officials hope to transform the resistance to foreign occupation into a fight between Iraqi extremists and their own government.

The extremists, U.S. officials said Sunday, appear to have two objectives:

_Crippling the new regime and discouraging Iraqis from cooperating with it by assassinating government leaders and bureaucrats.

_Forcing U.S. troops to protect the new government in order to undercut the legitimacy of the new Iraqi leaders and perpetuate the notion that the struggle is between Muslims and foreigners.

"These are forces who are trying to stop the democratic process," said Bakhtiar Amin, the minister of culture. "There is a political message: That Iraq is not under control."

"It's hard to protect an entire government," Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged on "Fox News Sunday." "It is going to be a dangerous period, and these murderers have to be defeated."

The official who was killed in Baghdad on Sunday, Kamal al Jarah, 60, was a literature professor who'd been hired as the cultural affairs officer in the Ministry of Education.

He was gunned down in the courtyard of his northwest Baghdad home at about 7:30 a.m., and died with four or five bullet wounds to the chest.

Abdul Ilah al Qaisi, an education ministry colleague and friend of 40 years, said al Jarah didn't travel with bodyguards and had no security at his home because "he was a peaceful man" who loved his work and his students.

"All our country is exposed to this terrorism, so you survive by God's will and that's all," al Qaisi said, adding that he'll continue to work with the new government. "Every day, our finest personalities, our best citizens, die like this, and the attacks will only continue."

On Saturday, Iraq's deputy foreign minister, Bassam Salih Kubba, was shot to death on his way to work. He was Iraq's most senior career diplomat.

Most of the Iraqi ministers and their fellow officials, who are still settling into their jobs after being appointed earlier this month, expressed a grim resolve Sunday, coupled with acceptance that the situation is only going to get worse.

"You can hire people to protect you, but it's not enough to face international terrorism," said Adnan al Janabi, another minister of state. "Every one of us is at risk, and we have to make some sacrifices for our country."

So far, the violence has continued unabated. Even in areas where American officials claim success—such as the cities of Fallujah and Najaf—there are signs that rebels remain in control.

In Fallujah, once a pillar of Saddam Hussein's secular rule, extremist Sunni Muslim clerics are imposing a strict interpretation of Islamic law that includes public floggings. Foreigners have been banned, and a Lebanese Shiite Muslim contractor was kidnapped and disemboweled outside the city this week.

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Saturday, a day after extremist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr pledged to support the new government, small squads of al-Sadr followers roamed the streets, demanding to know what visitors were doing there and whom they'd spoken with.

An Iraqi police station that was attacked a few days ago was empty, and looters were stripping police cars to the frames.

Al-Sadr's men weren't brandishing the machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers they had in previous weeks, but AK-47 rifles were propped up behind desks and doors, ready at a moment's notice.

An al-Sadr spokesman also made it clear that that the cleric will support the new government only if prime minister Iyad Allawi demands that U.S. troops leave Iraq. Allawi has publicly said the soldiers will have to remain for the foreseeable future.

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(Lasseter reports for The Miami Herald. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Hannah Allam contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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