Bremer jets home after US transfers power early in Iraq

It was a subdued affair, but the US has handed over power in Iraq two days before the transfer was scheduled to take place.

At a press conference in Washington this morning, a spokesperson for the Bush administration said that Iraqis had moved at "warp-speed" in taking control of government.

The endgame for the derogation of power began last Thursday when Iraqi ministers took over control of their departments. Since then, Iraqis have been running the "day-to-day affairs of the new Iraqi government", the spokesperson said.

During today's press conference it emerged that Iraq's Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had "strongly advised" the US that today would be "the right day" to transfer power as it would "strengthen his hand in dealing with the terrorist threat in his country and that it would demonstrate to the Iraqi people that… this new government is capable, willing, and ready to run their country, to improve the daily lives of the Iraqi people, and to improve the security environment in their country".

The handover was low-key; the US administrator Paul Bremer gave the new Iraqi prime minister and president a letter from President Bush requesting resumption of diplomatic relations. With the official handover, and the US administrator's role superfluous, Mr Bremer immediately returned to the US by plane.

The new US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, will be arriving in the country shortly. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said last Friday that a new US embassy in Iraq will open for business on July 1 - although this may have changed in view of today's handover.

Regarding the US military role, Iraqis will make the decisions about how their country is governed, but as leaders of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF) the US will continue assisting with security operations, and equipping and training Iraqi security forces.

Over the next few months, Iraqi security forces will take local control of cities, as the multinational forces move into a supporting role.

The members of the new government will have responsibility for Iraq’s day-to-day governance until elections are held in January 2005.

The Iraqi interim government will still hold a handover ceremony on June 30.


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