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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June, 2004, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Q&A: The handover in Iraq
Power has been handed over to an interim Iraqi government by the coalition or occupation forces in Iraq. But what will this mean in practice? BBC News Online looks at the key issues.

Who is now in charge in Iraq?

Power has been handed to an interim Iraqi government (IIG) which will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the country's affairs.

The government is led by a prime minister from the majority Shia community, Iyad Allawi, and has a figurehead president, Sunni tribal chief Ghazi Yawer, who has two deputies, one Shia, one Kurd.

Iraqi soldier on guard near Falluja
A greater role for Iraqi forces?
The government is said to be "fully sovereign", but US and other forces remain in Iraq in similar numbers as before to try and maintain security amid an increasingly fierce insurgency against US power and the Iraqi administration it sponsors.

But sovereignty will be limited in practice, because the IIG is only an interim body and will not be able to permanently write or amend the country's basic laws.

The IIG suffers the same drawback as its predecessor, the Iraqi Governing Council, did - it is unelected and tainted in many Iraqi eyes by having been installed under US auspices.

Why was the handover brought forward?

The handover had been scheduled for 30 June, the day a Transitional Administrative Law was due to come into force defining the powers of the interim government.

30 June: Transitional Administrative Law comes into force
End of Jan 2005: Elections to National Assembly
Autumn 2005: New constitution voted on in referendum
December 2005: Full elections for new government
January 2006: Directly elected government takes office
But since the changes are largely administrative - perhaps even symbolic - the handover was able to be moved forward to 28 June, two days early.

Going ahead on Monday, instead of Wednesday, means the announcement has come as western leaders are meeting in Istanbul for a Nato summit. It also pre-empts the possibility that insurgents could disrupt the handover with a spectacular attack or series of attacks.

It has taken most observers by surprise. It is a smart move in the eyes of some, stressing international unity and the coalition's enthusiasm for the handover.

But it signals to others how the insurgents have taken the initiative and have the power to determine the timetable towards progress in Iraq.

What happens to the US-led coalition?

With the handover, the US-led military force that has occupied Iraq since the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein becomes a multinational force (MNF) under overall US command.

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) ceases to be an occupying power in Iraq and the position of chief administrator, held by Paul Bremer, ceases to exist.

US troops in Baghdad
The issue of who's in command is the thorniest problem
Many sceptics point out that - with 138,000 troops deployed in Iraq - the US will in effect remain an occupying power by another name.

However, the Iraqi interim government will have an important role determining security policy through a national security council chaired by an IIG representative, and with US and British generals.

The mandate of the MNF and particularly the operational relationship between it and sovereign Iraqi forces has been one of the thorniest issues in the run-up to the handover.

Each side has pledged to co-operate and co-ordinate with the other. An Iraqi veto is implied in an exchange of letters but not stated. In practice, this means US forces are unlikely to launch controversial operations like the one in Falluja in April.

How will the handover affect ordinary Iraqis?

The IIG has been portraying the handover as a reason for Iraqis to rejoice that the humiliation of foreign occupation is over and the country is on the way back to normal.

However, most Iraqis seem to be more cautious about the immediate future. They have experienced many disappointments since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Baghdad street after ambush on foreigners' convoy
Iraqis' main wish is for the insecurity to end
Top of most people's immediate list would be a return of security - and the situation may actually deteriorate further after the handover.

There is little prospect of the most hardline leaders of the insurgency having a change of heart and ending the violence that has shaken Iraqi society to its foundations.

Foreign troops will still have to do most of the work trying to impose security - Iraqi troops and police have failed so far to make a big difference in tackling the insurgency.

A recent opinion poll by the CPA suggested a majority of Iraqis are optimistic that the interim government will make things better - though that may only be because their confidence in the coalition is so low.

The only institutions Iraqi people appeared to believe in were the police and army. Politicians of the then-Governing Council and ministerial representatives scored much lower in the April poll.

What happens next?

The IIG will be responsible for governing Iraq until elections for a National Assembly in December 2004 or January 2005.

After elections, interim rule will become "transitional" rule, with the national assembly forming a government empowered to draw up a new constitution that will be voted on by a national referendum in late 2005.

If the constitution is approved that will pave the way for a general election before the end of 2005 and if all goes well the installation of a directly-elected government at the beginning of 2006.

However, there are many obstacles to cross before then.

In particular, the security situation will have to be brought under control and Iraq's disparate ethnic and religious groups will have to agree on an acceptable form of government after years of dictatorship by the Sunni elite.

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