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Iraqis Celebrate Sovereignty - 2004-06-29

Baghdad was abuzz with excitement Tuesday following Monday's transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government. VOA's Greg LaMotte has more.

In coffee houses and other public gathering places in Baghdad Tuesday people were talking about Monday's transfer of sovereignty.

Many said they were surprised that the transfer happened so quickly, and a few days ahead of schedule. And most people said the announcement made them feel more optimistic about their own future, and the future of their country.

An accountant in one coffee house, Faraq Boutros said the transfer will help pave the way for a new future for Iraq.

Mr. Boutros said he is much more optimistic because the years of not being able to speak freely or criticize government leaders are over. He says he thinks Iraq is heading for a good future, and he is hopeful about the new Iraqi government.

Recent college graduate Khannsa Hafid, who has a new degree in engineering, says the future will be better now that Iraq has regained control of its sovereignty.

"I think I am optimistic and I hope there will be something new and it's a good step for the freedom for Iraq," he said. "And, I think we, as the people of Iraq, we need to have something new in our future. I think there will be many good things in our future. There will be more happiness, more peace, more plans for our future."

Newspapers across Iraq Tuesday ran banner headlines expressing surprise and optimism over Monday's announced transfer of authority. Many Iraqis say the transfer indicates the country is moving forward. And, even though the current interim government was not elected by Iraqis but instead appointed by a special United Nations envoy, 26-year-old homemaker Lubna Howeidi says she will support the current government if it is successful.

She says if the interim government provides for security, peace and the rebuilding of Iraq, and also provides opportunities for the people, she thinks Iraqis will want to encourage those in the interim government to continue their work.

The interim government was appointed to pave the way for national elections that are scheduled to be held in January.

The views expressed in Baghdad Tuesday are in marked contrast to earlier informal checks of public opinion in the city. In the past, most people complained bitterly about the security situation and the lack of public services, such as electricity, and they called for an end to the occupation. But now that the occupation is officially over, there was much more optimism in the air. And even though several people said Tuesday they would like the foreign troops to leave, they did not express quite the urgency they have in the past.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Monday security is the new government's number one priority. He vowed to "eradicate" terrorists in Iraq.

Most Iraqis say security is their greatest concern, too, and many said Tuesday they would support government efforts to stop terrorism, even if that includes the imposition of emergency laws that would limit everyone's freedom, which the government says it is considering.