U.S. Transfers Political Authority in Iraq
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Doug Struck, and Mike Allen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 28, 2004; 2:55 PM
BAGHDAD, June 28 -- The United States transferred political authority to an interim Iraqi government in a five-minute surprise ceremony on Monday morning that was conducted two days before the planned June 30 handover date because of security concerns.
"The Iraqi people have their country back," President Bush declared in Istanbul, where he is attending the NATO summit. "We have kept our word."
The formal transfer came at a hastily arranged ceremony, held inside the U.S.-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad. U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer handed over a blue portfolio containing a signed document conveying political authority to the chief judge of Iraq's highest court.
Several hours later, members of Iraq's new government took oaths of office, with each stepping forward to place a hand on the Koran.
"Before us is a challenge and a burden and we ask God almighty to give us the patience and guide us to take this country whose people deserves all goodness," said President Ghazi Yawar after taking his oath. "May God protect Iraq and its citizens."
The low-key transfer of power occurred in the office of Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, at 10:26 a.m. local time (2:26 a.m. EDT) before only a handful of Iraqi and U.S. officials and journalists.
"You are ready now for sovereignty and we think it's an important part of our obligation as temporary custodian to return the sovereignty to you," Bremer said. "I have confidence that the Iraqi government is ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead."
Allawi, who was appointed by a U.N. envoy to govern the country until national elections are held in January, called Monday "a historical day."
The handover ends direct U.S. control over Iraq's political affairs that began after the U.S. military toppled former president Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003.
Bremer, who has served as America's viceroy in Iraq, flew out of Baghdad on a military transport plane two hours after the ceremony. The occupation administration he headed for the past 11 months was officially dissolved on Monday and will be replaced by a U.S. embassy.
A few hours after Bremer's departure, the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John D. Negroponte, arrived in the Iraqi capital to formally reestablish diplomatic ties that were severed in 1990, after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Although a U.N. Security Council resolution passed earlier this month deems the interim government "fully sovereign," it will lack many hallmarks of a sovereign nation.
More than 130,000 U.S. troops will remain in the country with wide latitude to mount operations to combat an increasingly violent insurgency. A temporary constitution also limits the interim government's power to basic civil administration and preparations for national elections.
While ordinary Iraqis regard the handover as symbolically important, it will not result in many immediate changes for them. U.S. forces will continue to conduct raids and house searches. Iraqi government ministries will operate in much the same way they did before Monday's handover.
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