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US Hands Over Iraqi Sovereignty in Low Key Ceremony - 2004-06-28

The transfer of sovereignty in Iraq became official during a small ceremony in Baghdad Monday. The interim prime minister of the country promised to fight terrorism and called on all Iraqis to help defend the country against foreign militants who are attacking foreigners and the country's infrastructure. The 14-month occupation of Iraq officially came to an end during a low-key, hastily-arranged ceremony in Baghdad Monday morning.

The U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, delivered a letter to Iraqi leaders formally transferring sovereignty to their government, selected by a U.N. diplomat and endorsed by the Security Council. The government is to organize elections by January.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi thanked the U.S.-led coalition for liberating Iraq from the rule of Saddam Hussein. He said help is still needed to establish security throughout the country, but he said that is now Iraq's own responsibility.

"They helped us in liberating out country, we are very thankful. We appreciate what the United States president and other members of the coalition have has done," Mr. Allawi said. "The blood that has been spilled in Iraq has been spilled for a very good reason, for the defense of values, freedom and democracy and fighting terrorism and we intend to continue to do so. So, frankly, the security of our country now lies in our hands. Basically, we have the support of the multinational forces and we look forward to their continued support."

Iraq will not control the more than 160,000 coalition forces that will remain in the country. Iraq does have the right to ask those forces to leave, but interim leaders have said they have no intention of doing so. In the meantime, the interim government will have some say over any major military operations the coalition wants to launch, under a U.N.-brokered arrangement.

The commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, told VOA the transfer of sovereignty should help create greater security in the country.

"The key aspect of this transfer of sovereignty is we now have Iraqis in charge of their country," Gen. Sanchez said. "We now have Iraqis that will be leading their military forces and all their security forces. And, it was very important to be able to get security and stability back to this country. And, that's what we're looking forward to is the partnerships that will now evolve fairly quickly now that we have counterparts."

Later, at a swearing-in ceremony for the new government, Prime Minister Allawi warned what he called the "forces of terror" that Iraq would remember who stood with the country and who stood against it. And, he called on all Iraqis to fight terrorism and help defend the country. He promised to "eradicate" the foreign terrorists in Iraq.

Iraqi political leaders said the transfer of sovereignty occurred days earlier than had been planned in an effort to thwart possible efforts by insurgents who may have been planning attacks.

There is discussion concerning the possible imposition of emergency laws that would, among other things, enable the interim government to impose curfews in an effort to crack down on insurgents.

Mr. Allawi said he is committed to holding elections in January, despite earlier statements that such elections might have to be postponed if security remains a problem.

As part of the transfer, former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will soon go before an Iraqi judge, where he will be formally charged and officially transferred to Iraqi custody. U.S. military sources say that transfer could happen as early as next week.

The former U.S. administrator, Mr. Bremer, left the country shortly after the ceremony.