The United States transferred political authority to an interim Iraqi government in a five-minute surprise ceremony Monday, accelerating the planned handover by two days in an effort to avoid attacks by insurgents thought to be plotting to mar the event.

At the hastily arranged ceremony, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer handed a signed document to the chief judge of Iraq's highest court announcing the dissolution of the U.S. occupation administration and the conveyance of political authority to the interim government.

The handover marked the end of direct American control over Iraq's political affairs that began after the U.S. military toppled the government of President Saddam Hussein in April 2003. Bremer flew out of Baghdad on a military transport plane two hours after the ceremony. The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John D. Negroponte, arrived to reestablish diplomatic ties that had been severed since Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Iraq's interim government, led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi -- who had been a CIA-supported opponent of Hussein's -- faces the challenge of running a country racked by a violent insurgency, hobbled by economic stagnation and riven by religious and ethnic disputes. After the handover there was little celebration by ordinary Iraqis, who remain deeply skeptical about the continuing U.S. role in their nation and the ability of the new government to address their problems.

Although Bremer's document stated that the interim government "will assume the complete sovereignty on behalf of the Iraqi people," it will lack many of hallmarks of other sovereign nations. More than 130,000 U.S. troops will remain. A temporary constitution will restrict the interim government's power largely to the areas of basic civil administration and preparations for national elections. The country's oil revenue will be subject to international oversight. U.S. personnel will continue to work out of Hussein's Republican Palace. And the government itself is supposed to be in power until national elections are held in January.

-- Rajiv Chandrasekaran

L. Paul Bremer, left, shakes hands with Iraqi President Ghazi Yawar as Bremer's deputy David Richmond watches during the ceremony marking the transfer.