Senators offer bleak assessment of Iraq after governor killed

BAGHDAD — A roadside bomb on Monday killed the governor of Iraq's Muthanna province, making him the second governor in as many weeks to become a casualty of violence between rival Shiite Muslim militias in southern Iraq.

Word of the assassination came as two prominent members of the Senate Armed Services Committee completed a two-day visit to Iraq and offered a bleak assessment of prospects here.

In a joint statement, Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the committee's chairman, and John Warner, R-Va., the committee's senior Republican, said that while a surge of U.S. troops had tamped down violence in some parts of Baghdad, there was no sign of political reconciliation between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite rivals and "we are not optimistic about the prospects." They said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker shared their views.

Levin later told reporters during a conference call from Tel Aviv that he believed the Iraqi parliament should replace Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. "The Maliki government is nonfunctional and cannot produce a political settlement because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders," Levin said.

Levin said he and Warner spent two hours with Army Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, but that Petraeus didn't say what he planned to recommend about U.S. Iraq policy in a much-anticipated report to Congress next month.

Gov. Mohammed Ali al Hassani was killed at about 8 a.m. while traveling from his hometown, Rumaitha, to his office in Simawa, police said. Two other people traveling with him also were killed, and three of his guards were injured.

Police said the bomb had been planted on the main route between the two cities. Muthanna is about 170 miles south of Baghdad.

A hospital worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release details said Hassani was dead when he arrived at the hospital.

Hoping to prevent any revenge killings that sometimes follow high-profile attacks, local officials immediately imposed a curfew.

Another provincial governor in southern Iraq, Khalil Jalil Hamza of the Diwaniyah province, was killed Aug. 11, also by a roadside bomb.

Both Hamza and Hassani were affiliated with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a Shiite political group. The council has a militant wing known as the Badr Organization. The Badr militia is locked in combat in the south with the Mahdi Army, head by Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

Maliki issued a statement condemning Hassani's killing and promising justice.

"Once again, the criminals have committed a new ugly crime to disturb the stability in southern Iraq," Maliki said. "Those who stand behind this ugly crime want to flood the governorate with chaos and insecurity to carry out an agenda of hatred."

Coalition forces turned security of Muthanna province over to Iraqi forces earlier this year, military spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Garver said. Asked whether the Iraqis are prepared to maintain calm in that region, he said only that some violence is to be expected.

"When an area is turned over, it means the provincial government can reasonably handle most issues — it doesn't mean it's going to be violence-free," Garver said. "That's not a realistic goal."

He said the Iraqis now face a test: They must ensure that there are no reprisal killings in the wake of the governor's assassination, and they must be able to conduct an investigation that will bring the attackers to justice.

(Collins reports for The Fresno Bee. Contributing to this report were Margaret Talev in Washington and McClatchy special correspondent Hussein Kadhim in Baghdad.)