The early Monday morning handover of power in Iraq surprised the world. Analysts
and diplomats agree the fear of terrorist attacks during the scheduled sovereignty
transfer prompted the change of plans. But nobody expects the violence to end
any time soon.
The last thing Iraqi and U.S. officials wanted during an official handover
ceremony was a deadly terrorist attack. The surprise transfer of power a few
days ahead of schedule in a fairly private ceremony averted a potential disaster.
Some Iraq analysts like Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute
in Washington say the pre-emptive transfer of power may send mixed signals. "On
one hand, it's a wise decision from the point of view of security. On the other
hand, it does transmit to some of the militants that we're running scared," he
There is little doubt the insurgency will continue. Militants trying to derail
Iraq's transition are targeting anyone connected to it.
Even as the handover took place, militants were threatening to kill an American
soldier, three Turkish nationals and a Pakistani citizen they are holding hostage.
Fighting continues in several areas of the country.
Security has been a chief concern for the U.S.-led coalition and for Iraqi
leaders taking charge of the interim government.
The enormity of the task is not lost on Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad
Allawi. "We feel we are capable and in control of the situation and the security
situation," he said.
David Mack of the Washington-based Middle East Institute says the early transfer
of sovereignty bolsters the interim leadership's credibility. "I think it's
a recognition in London and Washington that the new group of Iraqi leaders
has been saying the right things, taking the right initial steps. It's very
early in the game but why not give them a vote of confidence," he said.
That vote of confidence is much needed for Iraqi leaders who are aware the
military and police forces are not yet ready to enforce law and order.
Interim Prime Minister Allawi talks about the need for emergency measures
that could include curfews and other restrictions. He also talks about rehiring
former commanders of Saddam Hussein's army.
Middle East analyst David Mack says it is a risky but necessary move. "You
had a huge pool of talent being wasted and worse than that, people being turned
against the newly-emerging order in Iraq because they were deprived of the
ability to carry out any honorable employment to support themselves and their
families and enable them to serve the nation," he said.
Mr. Mack also suspects the timing of the early transfer during the NATO summit
in Istanbul was not a coincidence. "This was an opportunity to put Iraqis in
the best possible light at the time they were requesting from NATO special
assistance, particularly in the area of training," he said
NATO assistance, he says, will be easier to get now that the U.S.-led occupation
is over. Several NATO members had opposed the U.S. war in Iraq and refused
to provide military help.
But Iraq's security also depends heavily on the continued presence of more
than 150,000 foreign troops.
The bulk of the foreign troops in Iraq are American. U.S. officials have
talked a lot about lowering their profile during the transition period. But
their continued presence still gives Iraqis the impression the occupation continues.
"Sovereignty is symbolic at this point. U.S. participation on the security
side and the U.N. role on governance is essential to going forward," Middle
East analyst David Phillips of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mr. Phillips says it is important for the interim leadership now to put an
Iraqi face on security. "If Iraqis are manning checkpoints and proactively
working from police stations around the country to create better security,
it's going to send a message to Iraqis that the insurgency is against their
own and that Iraq's interests lie in strengthening interim government and moving
more fully toward sovereignty through additional government arrangements," he
Iraqi leaders expect foreign troops to remain for the foreseeable future
to help stabilize the country. But now, with the transfer of power from the
U.S.-led coalition to Iraq's interim government, the decision on how long they
stay will be Iraq's to make.