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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.S. Transfers Sovereignty to Iraqi Government

Aired June 28, 2004 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Live from Baghdad, I'm Anderson Cooper. Thank you for joining us on this historic and surprising day in Baghdad - a day that no one anticipated playing out quite like this.

10:26 a.m. local time in Baghdad, the handover of power to the new Iraqi government took place. U.S. ambassador - U.S. administrator Paul Bremer signing the documents, handing over documents - he had signed them earlier in the day. This - this ceremony planned now we are learning from some coalition sources as long as a week ago, though no one here really on the ground knew about it.

A very small amount - number of people at the ceremony. Iraq's new Prime Minister Allawi as well as Iraq's new President al-Yawer. A ceremony very understated, very quiet.

CNN's Christiane - excuse me - CNN's Christiane Amanpour attended the ceremony, although when she was called to go there she didn't quite know what it was. She was in the room when the handover happened.

Christiane, what was it like?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we got there and we waited around for about an hour. And some of the invited press who were there to witness this were told who were going to be the participants. And we saw - we didn't know, really, until we got into the room, when they were all seated. And then after making a few statements, they got up and the blue-bound document that Paul Bremer had signed earlier that morning, the transfer of sovereignty document was handed over to Prime Minister Allawai, who then handed to the head of the Supreme Court, who then in turn handed to the president of Iraq. And then, as you have just seen, people started to clap, and that was the end of that.

It was very brief, but it was very good-humored. It was earnest. There were some speeches, some statements amongst themselves. First of all, the president spoke and said that it was a historic day.

And then it was Prime Minister Allawi's turn to speak.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

L. PAUL BREMER, U.S. ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: ...sovereign authority on behalf of the Iraqi people. We welcome Iraq's steps to take its rightful place, with quality and honor, among the free nations of the world. Sincerely, L. Paul Bremer, ex-administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: After that, Ambassador Bremer said a few words, and he said that he was absolutely sure that it was his pleasure to hand over sovereignty and that the Iraqis were ready for it.

Well, we thought we had that soundbite lined up. But basically, what Ambassador Bremer said, who is now, as he referred to himself, the ex-administrator of Iraq - he said that it was really time, that they were confident that the Iraqis could take over sovereignty now. He said that he was confident that they could meet the challenges ahead.

And, really, one of the principal themes of today's transfer of sovereignty was the security issue. They mentioned it - all of the people who spoke mentioned it, and we are expecting a press conference from the new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, shortly. We're not sure exactly when. But he said that in that press conference, he would outline the measures, the security measures that Iraq is going to take to try to deal with this insurgency. Government ministers have said in the past few days that they plan a showdown with the insurgents. So we're waiting to see exactly what that means, Anderson.

COOPER: And Christiane, a sign of how quickly things change here on the ground. We have learned that Ambassador Paul Bremer, the ex- U.S. administrator here, flew by helicopter from the Green Zone, where you are, where Christiane is right now. He has now boarded a plane and has left the country of Iraq. He has been here for more than 13 months now working, as he says, seven hours - seven days a week, 18- hours day - 18 hours a day. He says he only took two days off in all that time. He says he is tired, but leaves with a mix of happy - of sadness, but also he feels his mission has been accomplished here.

I spent some time with him the other time. That is what he told me then. Ambassador Paul Bremer has left the country.

Now, of course, the new U.S. ambassador, John Negroponte, will arrive here some point. It is not known if it will be today or tomorrow or the next several days. They probably will not be saying, for security reasons. He will present his documents to the new Iraqi government. Yet one more step in this handover of power, which has officially begun.

As we said, we are awaiting a press conference very close to where Christiane is of the new Iraqi prime minister, where he will, as Christiane mentioned, outline some of the steps he plans to take.

Let's - I'm sorry, where do you want us to go from here?

Events are moving fast on the ground here. Just trying to keep a sense of where we are going.

Christiane is standing by still. Christiane, is it - all right, actually we'll check in with Christiane just shortly. She is standing by for Prime Minister Allawi's press conference.

CNN's David Clinch is standing by in Atlanta. David, as you watch these fast-moving developments on the ground, what goes through your mind? I mean, no one really anticipated this happening in this way today.

DAVID CLINCH, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL EDITOR: No, they did not. We talked about his earlier. We did not anticipate it. We're relying on our people in Baghdad and elsewhere to outline this week for us, and we had all our plans in place for either tomorrow or the day after for this handover ceremony, always understanding that it probably would be a fairly low-key ceremony.

Well, I don't think it gets much more low-key than it was today. And it was very much unexpected. I don't quite sleep with my boots on, but obviously L. Paul Bremer does. If you - you may not be able to see it in this picture, but he's standing with his blue suit on. But down below that, he's clearly wearing tan military boots, and left Iraq just moments after this ceremony on helicopters to the airport, and then flew out of the country.

To follow up on something you were saying in terms of when Ambassador Negroponte will arrive, that will be now the role that the chief U.S. civilian entity in Iraq will be now. And an embassy with an ambassador.

What we're told is that in Istanbul, that President Bush has now asked this new Iraqi government - the CPA does not exist anymore - he has now asked this new Iraqi government to re-establish diplomatic relations with the United States, broken off before the first Gulf War, and to arrive this new Ambassador Negroponte into the country. As you say, though, we do not know exactly when he will arrive. So we'll be watching for that.

We're also watching, of course, all over Iraq for any violence that may come as a result of this. We've been talking all day about whether this handover happening early relate in any way to the insurgency. There obviously is the suggestion they may have been trying to wrong-foot the insurgents to prevent any violence on an expected, anticipated, scheduled day for the handover. We don't know whether that's a factor, but what we do know is that we're watching all over Iraq now for any violence that may flow out of this.

And also, obviously, in Istanbul watching for those leaders there at NATO who have been saying up to this point that will basically let the U.S. know what their plans for training Iraqis and others are after there's an interim government. That interim government now exists. The Foreign Minister Zabari is there. He will be meeting with those NATO leaders at least one-on-one. And there will be decisions to be made in Istanbul, which we did not anticipate.

So we'll be there, and we'll also be watching - now the thing that occurs to me as the person and part of the group here that looks after all of our news-gathering in Iraq - and you may be able to answer some of these questions, Anderson....

COOPER: Yes.

CLINCH: If we're dealing with an Iraqi government, do we now have to go to that interim Iraqi government in terms of our ability to travel throughout the country, our ability to go and cover events, our ability to go to places within Iraq that we used to go through the U.S. military. There's definitely the suggestion that we now have to deal with the Iraqi government. And obviously, also, as we know, the question -- this government cannot make any long-term decisions, but they can make immediate decisions, specifically relating to security. And that affects us in our ability to cover.

We're looking now with this press conference coming up shortly whether there's any mention of martial law, and any mentions of specifics on security, immediate specifics of what this Iraqi government will do.

So we're watching for that, and also...

COOPER: Hey, David...

CLINCH: ...watching for the president - the prime minister, or the interim prime minister to make his first public speech.

COOPER: David, of course, no matter where you go in Iraq, people are talking about security, Iraqis talking about security. That is what they want. It seems at this point in time above all else.

And as David pointed out, many questions remain about what this government actually can do to improve the security situation in the short term. What they will tell you is, Look, some - one U.S. general I talked to the other day described Iraqis taking over the security services, more and more Iraqis manning checkpoints, Iraqis checking cars, as being a force-multiplier, that because they are inhabitants here, they can see who is a foreign fighter, who is not, perhaps quicker and faster and more easily than an American soldier here. They speak the language. Obviously, U.S. soldiers here, that has been a problem. Many of them travel with local Iraqi interpreters, but few American soldiers speak Arabic, have much communication abilities with Iraqis on the ground.

But there are so many supply problems remaining and so many morale problems remaining and so many training problems remaining for Iraq's security services. Not only Iraq's new army, but also the police, most importantly.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour spoke just the other with General David Petraeus, who is tasked with trying to revamp and revitalize, really, and instill a sense of morale into the new Iraqi police force.

Let's check in with her. She's standing by in the Green Zone.

Christiane, security, it's a difficult mission, both for General David Petraeus, but also just for Prime Minister Allawi trying to revamp these security forces.

AMANPOUR: Yes, and as you know, it would not be an understatement that this whole project, this whole experiment, this legacy that's meant to be turning Iraq into a democracy that could be a model for the rest of the Middle East - it all hinges on where they can get this terrorism, this insurgency stamped out, under control.

So that is the focus of everybody here, whether it be the new government, or the American forces who will still be here, trying to help them.

The new government says that it wants the Iraqi people to be its eyes and ears. It wants the new police, the new national guard, which we used to call the ICDC, is now called the new national guard, the new Iraqi forces. They are the ones who are going to be deployed into the community to try not only to win hearts and minds, where perhaps the U.S.-led occupation has failed, but also to be the eyes and ears, to try to inform, to try to encourage people to inform if they know of any of this terrorism or insurgency. They hope that perhaps that information will come more readily to an Iraqi force than it might have done to an American force here.

So that's what they're hoping in terms of "Iraqifying" this whole security operation.

But let's not forget, even if these tens of thousands of Iraqi security forces, which are not a huge security force, is deployed, the Americans will still be here. We've been told by the highest levels here of American military officials that the American forces will be just a call away, whether they're next to them, around the corner, behind them. Wherever they are, if the Iraqi forces get into trouble - which they expect - they will be there. And they think that in itself will be an incentive to the Iraqi forces, and will stiffen their backbone, as General Petraeus said to us.

But what they really want to do is crack down, the Iraqi government does. And that's what we're still waiting to see, how that is going to shape up.

COOPER: Yes, Christiane, they're - as you well know, they are trying to sort of tactical units, SWAT-like units amongst the Iraqi security services, in particular amongst the Iraqi police and the Iraqi military, fast-reaction forces that can really go in and get very aggressive.

You can probably hear the call to prayers behind me. Life continuing on here as normal. Calm in the city of Baghdad on this historic and surprising day of the handover of power.

But as we talk more about security with Christiane Amanpour, who is standing by in the Green Zone - Christiane, let's talk a little bit about the changing nature of the insurgency here. There are - when you ask U.S. officials, who is it who is doing the fighting, who is it who are planting these IEDs, who are planing these suicide bombs, who are attacking police stations, they - there are different answers depending on whom you talk to. Some will say it is Saddam Fedayeen elements, it's Saddam members of the Baath members.

Others will say, Look, it is foreign fighters. The U.S. most often points to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian born terrorist who has claimed responsibility, at least, for a number of operations here, a number of attacks, including several beheadings. Most notably, of course, the beheading of American Nicholas Berg.

Christiane, let's talk though - as you look at the insurgency, how is it changing? How is it morphing here on the ground?

AMANPOUR: Well, perhaps as we look again at these hopeful pictures that we saw today of a new moment, a new beginning of the transfer of sovereignty, perhaps we can discuss this in terms of how it might play out.

You know, this started as a nationalistic insurgency. The people who we talked to or who reported as giving the aims of this insurgency, talked about nationalism, talked about getting Iraq back from the American occupation. But that has morphed into more of an Islamic slaver (ph).

We're told by senior U.S. officers in the region - for instance, Fallujah, that restive town in the Sunni Triangle, is essentially in the control of a Taliban-like police force. It's a no-go zone for American forces. And the way they've been trying to target these terrorist safehouses is by airstrikes.

So this insurgency, terrorism has morphed from a - sort of a home-grown anger at occupation by disaffected Baathists, Saddam former intelligence times, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the Special Republican Guard and the others, into a much more long-bearded, Koran-speaking kind of movement, where they say they want to bring Islamic law here. And what they're doing is that they've been gathering - gathering strength, gathering tactics, gathering money, increasing their cells. And this is confirmed to us by the U.S. here as well. And, as you know, it used to be dismissed by the Americans as sort of a bunch of dead-enders and thugs. But it has kept up and increased its strength over the last several months.

So this is going to be a huge challenge as to how and whether this new identity of these jihadis - because that's what they say they are - is going to be penetrated and crushed. And certainly officers that we've talked to here, American officers, have basically said that the war has created a magnet for these terrorist, that Iraq and the ability to fight Americans has become sort of the new center of jihad. There's no more ability in Afghanistan. That's moved here. And that terrorism has infinitely increased ever since - in the last year.

So this is a huge challenge, and senior U.S. generals have told us that they absolutely need to seal the borders, to seal what they call the "rat lines," where people can come from the borders through informal routes into these bases and cells, find the safehouses, close those down. It's a big operation, and they're hoping here, with the transfer, that some of that can be penetrated by Iraqi forces. Iraq on Iraq.

But the twist to that is that up until now, there have been alarming developments in areas where the U.S. hoped that Iraqis would be their fighting force. Iraqis have shown themselves reluctant to do that. That's what's going to have to change.

COOPER: And yet, as this insurgency morphs, as you say, the question - there is, seems to be sort of an open question as to the level of support among Iraqis of -- of seeing these foreign fighters.

And as you see more and more Iraqis literally paying the price with their lives for this transfer of power, as you see Iraqi policeman targeted, as you see men, women and children killed as the go about their daily lives early in the morning here in Baghdad and throughout Iraq, there does seem to be, at least in the last several days, some sort of sense or you hear perhaps a little bit more from some in positions of leadership, a sense of outrage that these are foreign fighters. You hear that more and more.

Do you think that is a glimmer of hope, that perhaps as this does morph into more of a jihadist movement, as foreign fighters come in, that that will in some way sort of isolate it?

AMANPOUR: Well, clearly, that's the hope, that it somehow withers on the vine if it doesn't have popular support. And up until now, you would hear very few Iraqis publicly denounce these people.

But because they believe that what they call foreign fighters, Arabs from other part of the world, neighbors coming in here - because they believe that those are the ones who are committing the atrocities here, whether it be bombing marketplaces, whether it be bombing police stations, army recruiting centers, ministries and the like - because that has taken a disproportionately heavy toll on the Iraqis, people are getting furious. In fact, they have been for a long time.

They are beginning to speak out. Even in the mosques, this Friday, just a few days ago, mosque imams were beginning to say, "Enough. We do not need foreigners to come in here and spill Iraqi blood."

So there is definitely a significant segment of Iraqi society, the people here, who simply want nothing to do with these foreign jihadis. And, you know, the question is though: how does one now extricate these tentacles that these foreigners seem to have put into local Iraqi cells? And apparently the money that they're providing to these insurgent cells, according to other reporting - some of the source of the money that's coming in to these homegrown Iraqi cells are - is from abroad.

So this is - this is an increasingly difficult, difficult dilemma.

COOPER: The question, also, I think that remains to be answered is how much of - how many of these fighters are they, and also how much of the Iraqi element of the insurgency have linked up with these fighters? And how much of that, that Iraqi part, may dissipate if they see more and more Iraqis manning checkpoints, if it is more and more Iraqis who are getting killed by these suicide blasts, by these IEDs?

The hope, I suppose, and the plan from the U.S. forces, though the remain here in some - in great force, more than 130,000 of them on the ground throughout Iraq - is that the Americans will somehow withdraw more and more into bases. You will not see them as much on patrol. And therefore, the sense that they are in any way still sort of an occupying power will be lessened, and that in the - the psychology and the mind-frame and the mind's eye of Iraqis, the Americans, yes, are a presence here, but they are a presence not necessarily seen and not necessarily sense.

I suppose that is the plan by the U.S., Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Well, I don't think so, actually.

They - I think they hope that. But I think that, you know, we've asked many senior officers - in fact, on the record, General Kimmitt has said, the spokesman here, that you're not going to see a whole lot of change. American forces will still be out. But, they say, in a supporting role.

But it doesn't mean to say that we won't see them on the street. They're needed. That kind of force is needed. And certainly, there aren't enough foreign troops here, Americans or others, to do the massive job of closing the borders and trying to - or to - to get others to do that job. They need that force still out on the streets, and I don't think, from what we've been told anyway, that we're going to see them pull back into bases.

What we're going to see is a show of giving the prime responsibility to the Iraqi forces. But General Petraeus himself has said they're going to be beside, behind, around the corner. Whenever there's an alarm call out and they're asked for, they're going to - they're going to move in.

The question is, what happens if the new Iraqi prime minister or the defense minister or the president says to the American hierarchy here, to the forces here, "Well, we don't want you to do X or Y or Zed." Then, that's going to be an issue.

But right now, the Iraqi government has invited the U.S. forces here. They've said publicly and openly that they still need that kind of security cooperation and help. And it's a formal situation. They've made that side-letter to the U.S. resolution, and there's no question that American presence will still be seen here as of right now.

COOPER: No question of that. And we are anticipating a press conference from Prime Minister Allawi anytime in the near future. It could be the next couple of minutes, it could be the next several hours - at which the prime minister, we are told, may outline some of what his plans are to tighten down, to clamp down on the ongoing insurgency, the ongoing efforts by foreign fighters here, which, in the last several days, we have seen them increasingly targeting Iraqi police, large numbers of attacks on Thursday across the country. More than 100 Iraqis were killed in those attacks throughout the weekend. We have, of course, seen sporadic attacks.

All the while, though, there is also another story going on here, a diplomatic story. That story in Turkey, in Istanbul, where CNN's Robin Oakley is standing by at the NATO summit, where President George W. Bush is trying to get international help, NATO help to retrain Iraq's new army inside the borders of the newly sovereign Iraq - Robin.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, well, President Bush was told about the early handover of authority yesterday, we learned from U.S. officials. And certainly that is going to help him in his efforts here at this NATO summit to persuade other leaders to give maximum assistance to the new government in Iraq.

Hoshyar Zabari, the foreign minister, is having meetings with a number of the NATO leaders here. Basically, he is looking first of all for a declaration of political support from NATO. The symbolism of NATO support for the new government is important.

But symbolism is, of course, of limited use in countering insurgency. So they're also looking for considerable help with the training Iraqi army and security forces. And they're looking for help with equipment. He made specific mention of technology to help improve the border controls in Iraq, which are hideously porous and which are allowing in these foreign fighters.

So President Bush will be pushing for a maximum effort from the NATO leaders. And a number of them had said in the past that they politically weren't going to get involved with helping out in Iraq until the Iraqi government took over.

So psychologically, it's important now that that government has taken over, has asserted its authority in the minds of some people here in Turkey by taking early. And it will help to push the whole question of Iraq right to the forefront of this NATO summit, and help to concentrate the minds of these leaders.

But the arguments will go on as to whether they are going to provide the training, which has provisionally been agreed by the NATO ambassadors already - whether they're going to provide that training inside Iraq or outside Iraq. Because countries like France and Germany have said all along they're not prepared to put their troops inside Iraq. So those sort of countries may well do their training outside. Others will go inside.

And then the other question that they have to settle is whether this going to be a NATO initiative in the sense that NATO will control and run the whole show, or whether NATO will simply coordinate effort by the individual national partners, the 26 countries that go to make up NATO - Anderson.

COOPER: Robin, one of the things that they are, of course, hoping to do with the army - we talked to General David Petraeus, whose job it is for the U.S. to sort of re-shape this army - is to give them a sense of belonging, a sense of morale that goes across religious or ethnic or historical lines - a sense of all living together and that the man on the left and the man on the right is your brother in arms. That is certainly one of the things that has to be done here in Iraq is retasked and retooled.

And, of course, as Robin Oakley said in Istanbul, Iraq's foreign minister trying to get NATO support for that retraining, NATO support for retraining inside the borders of the newly sovereign Iraq.

Robin, one of the things you mentioned that's interesting - you talked about the sort of the psychological change that may occur now at the summit because of this handover this morning.

How important is that? I mean, what sort of a difference does that make in the eyes of world leaders?

OAKLEY: Well, I think it makes a difference to their mood.

And the other way in which it makes a difference, Anderson, is that many of these European leaders in NATO have recently fought elections for the European parliament, in which those who had supported the war in Iraq tended to suffer at the polls. The war in Iraq has been an unpopular war with many European electorates.

But most of those electorates, when they are questioned by opinion pollsters, say they are happy to see an effort to help the new government in Iraq. And so that will give a greater political freedom to these leaders, to agree help in Iraq - Anderson.

COOPER: Robin Oakley reporting from Istanbul, Turkey, at the NATO conference. Robin, we'll check in with you later.

There are a number of meetings still going on, a number of reactions we are anticipating from world leaders, including President George W. Bush. We anticipate he will likely make some sort of a statement in the next several hours about this historic handover of power here in Iraq.

Let's take a short break, and when we come back, we'll talk with CNN's Baghdad bureau chief, Jane Arraf, about her perspective on this remarkable day.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome - welcome back live from Baghdad. I'm Anderson Cooper.

A remarkable morning here in Baghdad, a remarkable afternoon at this point. 10:26 a.m., the official handover of power from U.S. administrator Paul Bremer to Iraq's new government.

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