Iraq's interim government took control of the country on Monday, two days earlier than the scheduled transfer of power from the U.S.-led occupying power.
Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, speaking after meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair, told reporters on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Turkey the deteriorating security situation in the country was one of the reasons why the date had been brought forward.
It was feared resistance forces would stage a major attack to derail the process. The handover took place at a ceremony in Baghdad.
"We will challenge these elements in Iraq, the anti-democratic elements, by even bringing the handover of sovereignty before June 30 as a sign we are ready for it," Zebari said. He added: "We have made some very good progress in terms of the new security council (in Iraq) and the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people to take away the level of occupation we have suffered a great deal from.
"There are many Iraqis who are standing up to the challenge. We are here to seek more help and assistance, training and equipment." "After June 30, it will be up to us to run our country and to manage our security," Zebari conveyed. "It will be an acid test of our country and our future."
The early turnover came at the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi who believed it would strengthen his hand against the "terrorists" who are inflicting havoc on his country, a Bush administration official said.
The spokesman said that Allawi had decided late Sunday afternoon that the new government was ready to take control and informed Ambassador Paul Bremer, who then told President Bush. "The president was pleased with the news," the official said. "Our goal was to move as quickly as possible to move responsibility for day-to-day affairs to the Iraqi people ... Today was the right day to do it."
On Monday, Iraq's interim prime minister warned Monday that the "forces of terror" would be crushed as his new government took the oath of office, assuming power only hours after U.S. authorities handed over sovereignty.
Premier Iyad Allawi promised to lead his people to a better future, delivering a sweeping speech sketching out some of his goals for the country. He urged people not to be afraid of the "outlaws" fighting against "Islam and Muslims," and assured them that "God is with us."
"I warn the forces of terror once again," he said firmly. "We will not forget who stood with us and against us in this crisis."
Allawi also urged an end to attacks on police and security forces. "The army is the Iraqi army, not the Saddam Army," he said. "They are our brothers and our sons."
"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," said President Ghazi al-Yawer after taking his oath. "May God protect Iraq and its citizens."
Meanwhile, Paul Bremer, the senior US administrator in Iraq flew out of the occupied country, some two hours after the handover ceremony. Robert Tappan, director of the US-led occupation's press office, confirmed Monday that "Ambassador Bremer has left the country." "As I leave Iraq, I am confident in the future," Bremer was quoted as saying.
World leaders welcomed the early handover of power Monday. Tony Blair told reporters: "The important thing is that from now on Iraq controls its own destiny."
"This is very good," Poland's Deputy Defense Minister Janusz Zemke told The Associated Press. "Everything that accelerates the process of transfer of power to the Iraqis, that speeds up their taking of responsibility, is very good."
Poland was a strong supporter of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, commanding a force in the south-central part of the occupied country.
Catherine Colonna, a spokeswoman for Jacques Chirac, said the French president had learned only Monday morning that the transfer had been moved up two days.
"The transfer of sovereignty is a highly awaited and important event," Colonna said. "It's a step in the political process that continues up to 2005. Others must follow, and France expresses its wish for success to the interim government and the Iraqi people."
Germany, an opponent of the US-led invasion, also said it was pleased with the early move, saying the change in timing did not matter much but the fact of Iraqi control was crucial.
"We welcome the transfer of sovereignty that took place today," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Antje Leendertse said. "For Iraq, this is an important step on the road back into the community of independent nations."
The German government is prepared "to work closely together with the new Iraqi government on the political and economic reconstruction of the country," Leendertse said.
The European Union stated it was considering posting a special representative in Baghdad and would offer support to elections scheduled there early next year. "We want to establish contact with the new government as soon as possible," said EU spokeswoman Cristina Gallach.
Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khader said the handover raised hope for an end to foreign occupation of Iraq and for stability to the war-ravaged country. "Jordan welcomes this development and considers it a step toward rebuilding political, economic, security and social institutions in Iraq," Khader told the AP. (Albawaba.com)
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