U.S. Transfers Political Authority in Iraq
Attacks across the country last Thursday, apparently coordinated, killed more than 100 people. Insurgents also have captured and threatened to behead a U.S. Marine and four other foreign civilians over the past two days.
Bush administration officials expect the transfer of political authority to provide a psychological boost for Iraqis, who have grown increasingly frustrated with the U.S. occupation and sympathetic with insurgents.
With Iraqis now in control, at least politically, the officials hope the insurgents will lose support. Allawi pledged that his first task would be "to ensure the security of the people of Iraq" while defending "the values of freedom and democracy."
"The security of the country lies in our hands," he said.
A senior U.S. military official said the threat of insurgent attacks was a consideration in moving up the handover by two days. The ceremony was so secretive that even members of Bremer's senior staff did not know about it until two hours before it began, the official said.
A senior Bush administration official said the date was "Prime Minister Allawi's call, based on his comfort level." The official, who asked to remain unnamed in accordance with White House custom, said Allawi believed the early date would give him "more tactical flexibility . . . in dealing with the enemy."
The official said, "The administration has been in communication with Baghdad for several days -- I would say over a week -- about the concept or the idea of handing sovereignty over ahead of schedule.
"This was based upon two factors: Were they ready and taking into consideration the security environment in the country. Prime Minister Allawi strongly advised us that today would be the right day to do it," the official said.
Allawi made a final decision last night, which was communicated to Ambassador Bremer, and then to the administration.
"Obviously, he [Bush] knew about the possibility of this happening for several days," the senior administration official said.
"But he received confirmation that Prime Minister Allawi was making the recommendation to do so ahead of schedule. And the main reason that Prime Minister Allawi gave is that he believes it would strengthen his hand in dealing with the terrorist threat in his country, and that it would demonstrate to the Iraqi people and to the world that this new government is capable, willing and ready to run their country."
Allen reported from Istanbul.
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