The United States turned over to the Iraqi people the power to run their own government yesterday. This is an important step in Iraq's transformation to a democracy after more than 23 years of rule by one man -- Saddam Hussein. Since the U.S. military removed Hussein's government from power in April 2003, Iraq has been governed by the United States. Americans were in charge of Iraq's schools, hospitals, police and all the other functions of government.

Now a group of Iraqis selected by the United Nations assumes control of the country. They are in charge of the things that governments run, including schools and hospitals and the police. But it is only the first step on the path to creating a government chosen by the people of Iraq, in the same way that American citizens choose their government. Just as there were fighting and disagreements as the United States became an independent nation nearly 230 years ago, Iraq is likely to have more violence before it becomes a more smoothly running country.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, The Post's bureau chief in Baghdad, answers questions about what's next in Iraq.

So who's in charge of Iraq now?

Iraq has a president, two vice presidents, a prime minister and a 32-member cabinet. Unlike in the United States, the president will not be the most powerful person in the government.

The man in charge of the government is the prime minister. His name is Ayad Allawi (pronounced Eye-add Al-law-we). He lived in England for many years because he was opposed to Saddam Hussein and it was not safe to criticize Hussein in Iraq. Hussein killed and imprisoned many people who opposed him. Allawi's cabinet will have ministers responsible for things including defense, education, transportation and health.

If Iraqis are running the country, why can't American soldiers come home?

There are many people who want the new government to fail. They include people who still are loyal to Saddam Hussein and terrorists from other countries. Because the people continue to attack Iraqis serving in the new government, President Bush has decided that American soldiers need to stay to help make Iraq safer.

If the Iraqis are getting their own government, why is there still so much violence?

There are many Iraqis who want American soldiers to leave Iraq. They don't like the idea of foreign soldiers in their country. They also think that the presence of American soldiers has encouraged terrorists to attack. Some of those people also want the new government to fail because they want Saddam Hussein to become the president again.

What difference is this going to make to the lives of ordinary people in Iraq?

There may be more police officers on the street because the new government has promised to crack down on crime and terrorism. There won't be any changes at school because it is summer break!

Even when kids return to school, things should not be very different. But if the government wants to do things like distributing new school textbooks or changing the uniform that policemen wear, it will no longer have to ask the Americans for permission.

Why is it so important to the United States that Iraq have its own government?

The United States wants Iraq to be a free and democratic country. The only way that will happen is if Iraq has its own government. The government that took over yesterday will be in power for only seven months. In January, Iraqis will hold democratic elections to vote for a new government.

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, center, with Iraqi Chief Justice Mahdi Mahmoud, left, and outgoing administrator L. Paul Bremer.U.S. Army engineers remove barbed wire from a Baghdad square yesterday as the United States transferred control of Iraq to an interim government.