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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June, 2004, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Handover advanced but problems remain
By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

The unexpected early handover in Iraq has provided the new interim Iraqi government and the departing Coalition with a rare propaganda coup - but the advantage is likely to be short-lived as Iraq's problems press in.
US administrator Bremer hands sovereignty document to Iraqi leaders
Paul Bremer (right) hands power to Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi (centre) and Chief Justice Mahmoud (left)

And the hurried nature of the move is an indication by itself that not all is well in the state of Iraq.

If it was, the moment would be one for celebration not for secrecy.

The interim government had been urging the US Administrator Paul Bremer for some time to advance the handover date as much as possible.

The appointment last week of a final batch of government ministers led to the go-ahead.

The Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said on Monday: "We are ready."

Some bright spark must have realised that the conjunction of the Nato summit in Turkey with the original handover date of 30 June would give the United States and Britain the chance of controlling the news agenda for a change.

The handover is now dominating the summit, diverting attention from the undercurrents of divisions which marked the G8 meeting three weeks ago and which were threatening this gathering, whatever the show of public unity.

We are ready
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari
It has also enabled President George Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to present the argument to their closest allies they have always relied on when other justifications for the war have faltered - that one day Iraqis would govern themselves. Here therefore, they can say, is evidence of this.

There is also one other benefit. The sudden move could disrupt whatever plans the insurgents have to mark the 30 June themselves. Since the security of the state and the street is the most urgent of the problems facing the new government, this at least gives them a morale booster right at the start.

But propaganda coups tend not to last unless they are based on fundamentals.

And the fundamentals in Iraq are shaky to say the least.

To start with, this is only an interim, appointed government with limited powers. Elections are not due until January and even then there will only be a "transitional" government which will have to write a constitution before full elections are held by the end of next year.

So democratic legitimacy is some way off and that makes it hard for this government to rally support from the people.

Unable to provide security

Secondly, with more than 100 civilians being killed each week, the power of the government to impose its will on the streets is very limited.

The number of its own security forces - around 200,000 - sounds impressive. Their performance has been less so.

It therefore has to rely on foreign troops, mainly American, and this in turn fuels the insurgency.

Thirdly, a knock-on effect of the violence is that reconstruction has been slowed down.

The outcome depends on the capability of Iraqis to drive through this ugly stage and survive it
Sir Jeremy Greenstock
Although much has been done, much remains to be done.

This can be seen from the failure to improve the electricity supply. Coalition figures show it was running on a daily average during May of 4144 megawatts, well below the 6000 megawatts planned by the handover date.

Sabotage and the threat to foreign workers are obviously factors. Until these issues can be addressed, the rebuilding of Iraq - heralded as one of the main effects of the American occupation with $18bn voted by Congress for infrastructure - will not provide enough good news to counter the bad. Nor will it provide enough jobs.

Hopes for the future

On the plus side for the interim government is a hope that once Iraqis get a sense that they are running their own show, they will reject the violence from which they are themselves suffering.

This is what the Americans and British are now going to rely on. They have little else.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, formerly the senior British representative to the Coalition Authority told BBC News Online: "Eventually Iraqi society will reject mindless violence so categorically that it will not be able to continue. The end of the occupation period is an important step, because the violence then becomes directed against Iraqis.

"And the new interim government is clearly not an American puppet. I see the Iraqi people giving their new leaders the benefit of the doubt so long as they can offer competent administration. In the end, the outcome depends on the capability of Iraqis to drive through this ugly stage and survive it."

The BBC's James Robbins
"America now has to be seen firmly in the back seat"


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