Early Sovereignty Handover

AP — U.S. Transfers Sovereignty to Iraqi Govt.

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. Legal documents transferring sovereignty were handed over by U.S. governor L. Paul Bremer to chief justice Midhat al-Mahmood in a small ceremony attended by about a half dozen Iraqi and coalition officials in the heavily guarded Green Zone. Bremer took charge in Iraq about a year ago.

“This is a historical day,” Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said during the 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. Intially, the Americans were thought to have planned for about one more year of occupation.

Two hours after the ceremony Bremer left Iraq on a U.S. Air Force C-130, said Robert Tappan, an official of the former coalition occupation authority. 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 to leave the country quickly. Allawi delivered a sweeping speech sketching out some of his goals for the country, urging people not to be afraid of the “outlaws” fighting against “Islam and Muslims,” assuring them that “God is with us.” “I warn the forces of terror once again,” he said “We will not forget who stood with us and against us in this crisis.”

NYT — Handover Completed Early to Thwart Attacks, Officials Say [RSS]

The United States handed over sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government today in a low-key ceremony ahead of the June 30 date when it had been expected to do so, a surprise move apparently timed to pre-empt any planning of attacks by insurgents. The transfer of power took place in the green zone, a heavily fortified compound where the American occupation authority has had its headquarters since American-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein more than a year ago.

The transfer of sovereignty took place as NATO leaders held a summit in Turkey.

President 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 the summit in Istanbul, Turkey, according to a report by The Associated Press.
Stealing a glance at his watch to make sure the transfer had occurred, Bush put his hand over his mouth to guard his remarks, leaned toward Blair and then reached out to shake hands, the A.P. reported. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, a row behind the president, beamed.

Doing this in secret, while diminishing the ceremonial value of the occasion, was a master stroke–making it a fait accompli and taking away a terrorist target.

Other accounts:

CNN — Iraq handover of sovereignty completed

Coalition Administrator Paul Bremer — now the former administrator — read his letter contained in the transfer document: “As recognized in U.N. Security Council resolution 1546, the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist on June 28th, at which point the occupation will end and the Iraqi interim government will assume and exercise full sovereign authority on behalf of the Iraqi people. I welcome Iraq’s steps to take its rightful place of equality and honor among the free nations of the world. Sincerely, L. Paul Bremer, ex-administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority.”

Bremer handed the transfer document to the head of the Iraqi Supreme Court, who then gave it to President Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar. Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and the deputy prime minister also attended. “This is a historic and happy day for us in Iraq,” al-Yawar said. “It is a day that all Iraqis have been looking forward to. This is the day that we take our country back into the international community. “We want a free and democratic Iraq, and we want a country that is a source of peace and stability for the whole world.”

The interim Iraqi leaders expressed thanks to the coalition officials and troops, saying their sacrifices would not be in vain

Fox — Iraq Becomes Sovereign Two Days Before Deadline

The historic occasion was surrounded by little fanfare. FOX News reporter Greg Palkot said he received a call at 1 a.m. from the coalition saying Bremer would be holding a background briefing later in the morning. It was not until journalists arrived at coalition headquarters in Baghdad that it became apparent the ceremony had been moved forward. “You have said, and we agreed, that you are ready for sovereignty,” Bremer said in the ceremony. “I will leave Iraq confident in its future.”

MSNBC — U.S. transfers sovereignty to Iraq 2 days early

The Arab world voiced cautious optimism, but maintained calls for the U.S. military to leave the country quickly.

Update: Other blogger reactions:

  • Dean Esmay: “Neat move, and sends a message to both the terrrorists and the never-say-a-good-word critics that we mean what we say and say what we mean.”
  • McQ: “For all intents and purposes, that had already been done when the last of the ministeries was handed over last week. But as we all know, much of this is about symbolism, and there is no doubt in my mind that the terrorists were intent upon disrupting the symbolic handover.”
  • Spoons: “Somewhere in Iraq, some terrorists’ plans are royally messed up.”
  • Jen: “I was all teary-eyed.”

See also the TrackBacks below.

UPDATE: CSM — Quiet handover, secret ceremony

When Baghdad fell, US officials and their Iraqi allies expected an eventual return of Iraqi sovereignty to be a jubilant occasion much like the iconic toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Squarelast April. But a year later, Iraqi sovereignty was quietly handed over by US Ambassador Paul Bremer in a secret ceremony far from the view of the Iraqi people.


Word of the transfer trickled out to Iraqis throughout the day, who seemed to greet the news with equal measures of skepticism and hope. Most say they’ll judge the interim government on its ability to provide the security and stability that the CPA didn’t.

“We’re in the middle of a cultural and moral revolution,” says schoolteacher Munir al-Khafaji, sitting in a cafe in Baghdad’s largely Shiite Karrada neighborhood. He spent three years in Abu Ghraib prison for dissident activity under Hussein. “American soldiers can’t tell friends from enemies here. We can. So I’m hoping we’re going to be safer. But a lot of domestic political circumstances need to be settled – real change will come after elections.”

UPDATE: Bloomberg — Iraq Regains Sovereignty After 14-Month Occupation

Other analysts see that challenge as so formidable that the handover will change little.

“This so-called handover is nothing but cosmetic surgery,” Rime Allaf, an analyst of Iraqi affairs at the U.K.’s Royal Institute of International Affairs, said in an interview last week. “Nothing will change. The Americans can but hope it will only take Iraq off the front pages of the papers so that Bush can win the next elections” in November.

Robert Alt at NRO:

Inevitably there will be some who will point to any misstep made by the Iraqis as evidence that America rushed the transition. But it is worth remembering that the “rush” to transfer authority was one precipitated — indeed, demanded — by the Iraqi people themselves. While the majority of Iraqis were enthusiastic about being liberated, they were less enthusiastic about being occupied. This is because the Iraqis do not view themselves as a conquered people. To speak to Iraqis is to learn that their tyrant was conquered; Iraq was liberated. As such, the people sought the chance to exercise their newfound liberty through self-rule as soon as possible. There is often confusion, however, about Iraqi sentiment toward America in this process. At times, it seems that Iraqis simultaneously want America here and want America to leave. It is, however, possible to make sense of the paradox. Opinion polls and most Iraqis with whom I have spoken support the view that Iraqis are pleased to be rid of Saddam, want the opportunity to rule themselves, and recognize the need for continued U.S. security presence until they are capable of providing adequate security for themselves. With the transition, they have achieved all three goals.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Joseph Marshall says:

    Whatever one may think of this “neat manuver”, the mere fact that it was asked for by the Iraqis and agreed to by the U.S. shows how little either are in real control of the security of that country.

    The very notion that a “transfer of sovreignty” has to take place in secret is intellectually ludicrous! If you have to be this quiet about it, then you are not sovreign in fact, however strongly you assert your sovreignty in words.

  2. Joseph Marshall says:

    Whatever one may think of this “neat manuver”, the mere fact that it was asked for by the Iraqis and agreed to by the U.S. shows how little either are in real control of the security of that country.

    The very notion that a “transfer of sovreignty” has to take place in secret is intellectually ludicrous! If you have to be this quiet about it, then you are not sovreign in fact, however strongly you assert your sovreignty in words.

  3. legion says:

    While this was a good idea to avoid terrorists, it was surprisingly poorly-handled from a PR standpoint. A surprise, secret ceremony, with no parades, no big photo ops, no real hoo-hah at all leaves the media (both liberal and conservative) with no real story hook other than “we can’t stop the terrorists from doing what they want.”

    Whether it’s true or not, it’s very out-of-character for this image-is-everything administration. I wonder if they had “specific intelligence” about something being planned…

  4. McGehee says:

    I can only guess how the naysayers would have received a full-pomp-and-pageantry handover. It would have been the carrier-deck landing, the “plastic turkey photo op,” and “seven minutes in a classroom on 9/11” all rolled into one.

    It’s hard to take these guys seriously anymore when they have demonstrated time and again that no matter what Bush does he’s going to get slammed for it.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Yea, its almost as if the President REALLY cares about the lives of individual Iraqi’s. It’s as if the President REALLY wan’ts to deny the terorists their moment to strike. It’s as if the President REALLY does cherish freedom and democracy. An intelligent person would conclude that the President is everything he says he is and his motives are what he has stated. That he is a man that has accomplished what many (most?) in the liberal camp have stated was impossible… only a fool would attempt it… or someone trying to pull a fast one. Only someone whith sincere convictions in the value of Freedom and Democracy would take this plunge. President George W. Bush and his alies deserve to go down in history as liberators.