Arab and regional analysts say the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government is a good first step toward having Iraqis take full control of their country. But many experts in the Middle East also say it is not enough to convince most Arabs that the United States is sincere about leaving Iraq permanently.
The former head of the 22-nation Arab League, Esmat Abdel Meguid, welcomed the transfer of power in Iraq. But he said many people in the Middle East will be concerned that Monday's ceremony was only an effort by the United States to improve its imagine. "I would hope that this will be opening a new page, and the United States acting honestly and positively and not try to play a game in that. You see, this is very important for the United States to restore what they have been losing in the, not only in the Middle East or in the area, but in the whole world. Because there are oppositions to the United States' action in Iraq, not only in the Middle East, but in many parts of the world. So if this is genuine, positive and leading to restore to Iraq its rightful place in the area, because Iraq is a very important country in the area, then this move will succeed," he said.
Mr. Abdel Meguid said a good way for Washington to prove it really means to restore power to Iraq, should be for U.S. troops to pull out, in his words, as soon as possible. The view that the transfer of power must be followed by a withdrawal of U.S. troops was echoed by several regional analysts on Monday.
The head of Cairo University's Political Science Department, Hassan Nafaa, said any measure that gives Iraqis decision-making power is positive. Still, he said he doubted the transfer of administrative powers in Iraq will impress many Arabs, who think the United States wants control of Iraq's oil. "I don't think that people in the Arab world will perceive it as something that will change the life of the Iraqi people. Most of the Arab intellectuals think that the real decision-maker in Iraq is still the United States. And because the [Iraqi] government has no military machine, a security machine in general, so the most important file will be handled through the Americans and the forces of the occupation in general. So, as long as this government lacks the security apparatus, it will not be in a position to take real decisions in Iraq," he said.
At the University of Qatar in Doha, political science professor Mohamed Al-Musfir has a different concern. He said the coalition is exaggerating the threat of civil war in Iraq to provide an excuse for keeping foreign troops in the country. "Now, they are giving them again a false information, that, once the power, or the Americans, totally withdraw from Iraq, there will be a chaos, or a civil war. This is not true at all, because the Iraqis, first of all, they know each other, they are not going to face each other by force, and I believe that this civil war it is a cause [for the U.S. forces] just to be there permanently," he said.
Professor Sami Baroudi at the American University in Beirut said many Arabs are perhaps wrongly calling for a U.S. military withdrawal at this time. "I think, basically, that, all long, as the United States is there on the ground, people will still argue that the country is still under occupation, you know, despite all these cosmetics. Now, of course, there are many problems that may not make it possible for the United States to withdraw its troops, so it is more like, you know, [a dilemma]," he said. "If the United States withdraws right now, that would be total anarchy, so it will be very bad, I think, for the people of Iraq. But at the same time, one doesn't see a way out. I think all of these things should have been figured before the occupation, not after."
The Middle East project director of the Amman-based research organization, the International Crisis Group, expresses a similar view. The researcher, Joost Hiltermann, said the continuing U.S. and coalition troop presence in Iraq makes it difficult for many Arabs to see any positive developments. "Even when the United States is talking about reform and democratization and human rights, people don't believe it, because all they see is the military boot that arrives on Arab soil. And, so, the only thing that may, in the end, or in the long term, change their minds is the withdrawal of the American forces from the Middle East, and that is not going to be happening anytime soon, I think," he said.
On balance, Middle East analysts reached after the hand-over of sovereignty in Iraq welcomed the move. But they also say Arabs across the region will want to see a full withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq as soon as possible, even though most agree there are good reasons that will be difficult to achieve.