Global Policy Forum

Sovereign Iraqi Government Sworn Into Power

Globe and Mail
June 28, 2004

The U.S.-led coalition transferred sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government two days early Monday in a surprise move that apparently caught insurgents off guard, averting a feared campaign of attacks to sabotage the highly symbolic step toward self-rule. Members of the government took the oath of office only six hours later.

Members of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's new government each stepped forward to place their right hand on the Koran and pledge to accept their new duties with sincerity and impartiality. Behind them, a bank of Iraqi flags lined the podium. "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," President Ghazi al-Yawer said after taking his oath. "May God protect Iraq and its citizens." Earlier, legal documents transferring sovereignty were handed over by U.S. governor Paul Bremer to chief justice Mahdi al-Mahmood in a small ceremony attended by about a half dozen Iraqi and coalition officials in the heavily guarded Green Zone. Mr. Bremer took charge in Iraq about a year ago.

"This is a historical day," Mr. Allawi said during the handover ceremony. "We feel we are capable of controlling the security situation."

Militants had conducted a campaign of car bombings, kidnappings and other violence that killed hundreds of Iraqis in recent weeks and was designed to disrupt the transfer, announced by the Bush administration late last year. Initially, the Americans were thought to have planned for about one more year of occupation. Two hours after the ceremony, Mr. Bremer left Iraq, Robert Tappan, an official of the former coalition occupation authority, said. Mr. Bremer was accompanied by coalition spokesman Dan Senor and close members of his staff.

The new interim government was sworn in six hours after the handover ceremony, which Western governments largely hailed as a necessary next step. The Arab world voiced cautious optimism but maintained calls for the U.S. military also to leave the country quickly.

The NATO alliance quickly said it would begin training the Iraqi military, which faces a daunting task in putting down the growing insurgency threatening the country. U.S. President George W. Bush marked the transfer with a whispered comment and a handshake with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, gathered with world leaders around a table at a NATO summit in Istanbul. Stealing a glance at his watch to make sure the transfer had occurred, Mr. Bush put his hand over his mouth to guard his remarks, leaned toward Mr. Blair and then reached out to shake hands. U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a row behind the President, beamed.

Mr. Bush was briefed Sunday that the Allawi government was ready to take power early. The transfer took place as Mr. Bush met with Mr. Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other world leaders. Mr. Allawi "believed that it would improve his hand on facing the security threat, and the security threat is obviously increasing up to the day of June 30. Is it going to prevent every act of terror? No, and I don't think anybody has tried to claim that," a senior administration official said.

The early transfer had been under discussion between Mr. Allawi and U.S. officials for at least a week, a senior administration official said. Mr. Bremer's last moments in Iraq were spent in a meeting with Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in the country. Although the interim government will have full sovereignty, it will operate under major restrictions — some of them imposed at the urging of the influential Shia clergy, which sought to limit the powers of an unelected administration.

For example, the interim government will hold power only seven months until, as directed by a United Nations Security Council resolution, there must be elections "in no case later than" Jan. 31. The Americans will still hold responsibility for security. The interim government will not be able to amend the Transitional Administrative Law – the interim constitution. That document outlines many civil liberties guarantees that would make problematic a declaration of emergency.

As Iraq's highest authority, Mr. Bremer had issued more than 100 orders and regulations, many of them Western-style laws governing everything from bankruptcy and traffic, to restrictions on child labour and copying movies. Some are likely to be ignored. One law requires at least a month in jail for people caught driving without a licence — something many Iraqis do not have. Another demands that drivers stay in a single lane, a rule widely ignored in Iraq's chaotic streets. Others are more controversial. On Saturday, Bremer signed an edict that gave U.S. and other Western civilian contractors immunity from Iraqi law while performing their jobs in Iraq. The idea enrages many Iraqis who say the law allows foreigners to act with impunity even after the occupation.

A Bremer elections law restricts certain candidates from running for office, banning parties with links to militias, for instance. The Coalition Provisional Authority's laws remain in effect after the occupation ends unless rescinded or revised by the interim government, a task that another Bremer-signed law allows only after a difficult process. The new government's major tasks will be to prepare for elections, handle the day-to-day running of the country and work along with the U.S.-led multinational force, which is responsible for security. The Iraqis can in principle ask the foreign troops to leave — although it is unlikely this will happen.

The United States and its partners hoped that the transfer of sovereignty would serve as a psychological boost for Iraqis, who have been increasingly frustrated by and hostile to foreign military occupation. U.S. officials hope that Iraqis will believe that they are now in control of their country and that will take the steam out of the insurgency. Asked why the new government decided to hold the transfer earlier, he said Mr. Allawi had indicated that his ministries were already fully staffed. "Allawi said we are ready to take this all over ... it is part of our security strategy ... to have Iraqi officials be held accountable by Iraqis," the official said.

Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, the coalition deputy operations chief, was the only U.S. military official present at the handover. Mr. Bremer sat on a couch with President Ghazi al-Yawer. "We'd like to express our thanks to the coalition," Mr. al-Yawer said. "There is no way to turn back now."

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