United States today handed over sovereignty to Iraqi leaders in NYT
"In a surprise, secret ceremony that was hastily convened to decrease the chances of more violence, United States officials today handed over sovereignty to Iraqi leaders, formally ending the American occupation two days earlier than scheduled.
In a tightly guarded room behind high walls, L. Paul Bremer III, the top United States administrator, presented a formal letter recognizing Iraq's sovereignty to Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
Just 30 or so people were present for what Dr. Allawi described as the "historic" handover.
A few hours later, Mr. Bremer flew off on a military plane, leaving behind a country stunned by the sudden transfer of authority. Shortly afterward, Dr. Allawi was formally sworn in as Prime Minister.
"This is a historic day," said the Iraqi interim president, Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar . "We want a free, democratic Iraq that will be a source of peace and stability for the region and the whole world. We would like to express our thanks to our friends in the Coalition for the efforts and dedication they have spent."
The president added: "We want to tell them all their sacrifices will not go in vain. We are determined, we are committed, there is no way to turn back."
In Istanbul, where he was attending a meeting of NATO leaders, President Bush called it a day of "great hope" and said "the Iraqi people have their country back."
Appearing with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, the United States' principal ally in the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Bush said: "Fifteen months after the liberation of Iraq and two days ahead of schedule, the world witnessed the arrival of a full sovereign and free Iraq."
United States officials said the handover — to an interim government, in advance of general elections expected in January — is the crucial first step on Iraq's path to democracy.
"We welcome Iraq's steps to take its rightful place with sovereignty and honor among the free nations of the world," Mr. Bremer said.
But one of the new government's first actions as a sovereign power may be the imposition of martial law to crack down on guerrillas. Insurgents have stepped up attacks in recent weeks, presumably in an effort to disrupt a peaceful and orderly transition. Last Thursday, more than 100 people were killed in a series of apparently coordinated explosions in five Iraqi cities.
Asked whether he thought that imposing martial law was something an emerging government should do, particularly with American forces that will remain in Iraq, Mr. Bush said that Dr. Allawi "may decide he is going to have to take tough measures." America's job, he said, is to help the Iraqis "deal with these thugs."
"We will support him, we'll help him," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Blair called Iraq "the frontline of the battle against terrorism and the new security threats that we face."