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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Iraq's new governing council, acting confidently in its first full day on the job, voted Monday to send a delegation to the U.N. Security Council and assert its right to represent Baghdad on the world stage.
But in a reminder of the challenges faced by the new council as it takes its initial steps toward what is hoped to be a transition to democracy, violence erupted again in the capital. An explosion wrecked a car near the council's meeting site and yet another U.S. soldier was killed in an ambush.
In a statement, President Bush called the establishment of the council "an important step forward in the ongoing transition from ruthless dictatorship to a free and democratic Iraq with Iraqis determining their own future."
As the U.S.-backed council met, governments in Europe and Asia -- even those critical of the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein -- welcomed the body as a first step in returning political power to the Iraqis.
Both supporters and opponents of the conflict believe formation of an Iraqi administration could make it easier for them to contribute to the reconstruction of the shattered country -- a crucial way of improving their ties with Washington.
"I welcome the setting up of the governing council in Iraq ... as a first important step toward a genuine and representative Iraqi administration," the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said in a statement.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the council "is seen as the first major step toward the transfer of official power in the country from the coalition forces and into the hands of Iraqis" and a "model" for addressing the problems of security and reconstruction.
The council, announced Sunday, will have real political muscle with the power to name ministers and approve the 2004 budget. But final control of Iraq rests with L. Paul Bremer -- the U.S. administrator of Iraq and a major architect of the council.
That, and the fact the council was selected rather than elected, led to criticism at an Arab League meeting in Cairo, where Secretary-General Amr Moussa showed little eagerness to embrace the new Iraqi political body.
If the new council had been elected, Moussa said in a statement released Sunday night, "it would have gained much power and credibility." However, most Arab leaders, like Saddam, gained power by brutal force or right of birth, not through elections.
The 25-member body -- comprised of prominent Iraqis from all walks of political and religious life -- announced the delegation it was sending to the United Nations would "assert and emphasize the role of the governing council as a legitimate Iraqi body during this transitional period."
Ever since Saddam's U.N. Ambassador, Mohammed Al-Douri, left New York on April 11, Iraqi diplomats have kept a very low profile at the United Nations. Al-Douri did not resign and Iraq's U.N. Mission remains open, with the former third-ranking diplomat, Said Shihab Ahmad, in charge.
On Monday, the Iraqi governing council also formed three committees to outline an order of business for the coming weeks and work out organizational issues, said Hoshyar Zebari, a spokesman for the council. The council had planned to select a leader, but Zebari said that would be done later.
After the meeting had broken up, an explosion about a quarter-mile from the compound turned a black four-wheel drive vehicle owned by the Tunisian Embassy into a burned-out metal hulk. The site of the blast was a parking lot where journalists leave cars ahead of news conferences.
"I think it was a bomb," said Iraqi policeman Qasim Mohammed. "The explosion was very loud, and had it been a grenade, it wouldn't have been that powerful."
Mohammed said he believed the explosive device was thrown under the car shortly before it exploded.
The target of the blast was not clear.
Mouwafak al-Rabii, a Shiite member of the governing council and a human rights activist, condemned the explosion.
"These are being carried out by the Taliban of Iraq," he said at the bomb site. It is "a backward ideology. A very regressive ideology, it depicts Islam in a very unacceptable way."
Speaking about the American-British occupation, al-Rabii said "nobody wants the Americans to stay one day longer than what they have to stay." He added that when Iraq has a government, an elected parliament and the security is under control, then "the American and British troops should leave immediately."
In west Baghdad, one American soldier was killed and six wounded in an early morning attack by insurgents who fired several rocket-propelled grenades at the military convoy, said Spc. Giovanni Llorente, a military spokesman.
The death brought to 32 the number of American soldiers killed in hostile action since Bush declared an end to major fighting. Also Monday, the military said a Marine in southern Iraq died in a non-hostile incident.
On Sunday, one Iraqi died in an apparent failed car bombing.
A white Volkswagen was destroyed and a badly mangled and headless body lay nearby, said police Sgt. Adel Shakir. He said the body was thought to have been one of two men who were attempting to get the explosive-packed car near a police station filled with U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police.
Also Sunday, at least one Iraqi was killed and five wounded in a shooting incident involving U.S. troops in Baqouba, 45 miles northeast of the capital. The U.S. military said Monday that American soldiers opened fire after the car turned off its headlights and tried to run a checkpoint at about 11:20 p.m.
However, the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera television network quoted witnesses as saying the car was filled with a family on its way to a hospital. It said one child and an adult were killed in the shooting, and several others were wounded.
Meanwhile, several thousand people -- including Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds -- attended a ceremony in honor of the possible successor to the long-vacant Iraqi royal throne, Sharif Ali bin Hussein, who greeted well-wishers at his palatial headquarters.
The occasion was Revolution Day, the 45th anniversary of a bloody coup in 1958 when nationalists killed King Faisal II, Iraq's last monarch, provoking years of political unrest. The day had been celebrated under Saddam Hussein, but Monday was the first time monarchists in Baghdad were able to gather to mourn the king's assassination.
Six Iraqi holidays marked by Saddam's Baath party were wiped away in the governing council's first and highly symbolic act Sunday, but the July 14 holiday predates Saddam's rule.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)