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Handover of Sovereignty Comes Two Days Early

Aired June 28, 2004 - 05:30   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: 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. First the documents handed to Iraq's Prime Minister Allawi, then to the head of Iraq's Supreme Court, then to Iraq's new president.
It is official. It is surprising. A few people here when we woke up this morning anticipated this happening. We had been told it might happen tomorrow, as late as June 30, of course that was the official deadline. But nothing, of course, in Iraq is what it seems.

To give you a mark of just how surprising it was, even CNN's Baghdad bureau chief Jane Arraf was surprised by it.

Jane, a remarkable day here, did you have any sense this might happen today?

JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Well certainly we had the sense, as you know, Anderson, that this was something they were worried about for security reasons, that it was going to be low key, but nobody really dreamed it would be this low key to the extent that unless you actually had -- were there. For an Iraqi, they really wouldn't have known. And Iraqis, I think, were expecting something a little more ceremonial. But in the end, really what matters is that the country has in fact been handed over to them perhaps not quite the way it's done.

COOPER: That is true. And we are anticipating a press conference from Prime Minister Allawi shortly in which we're going to hear what he intends to do to try to sort of put his mark, put an Iraqi face on the ongoing security issues.

But let's look back a little bit. What has the U.S. accomplished here and what did they fail to accomplish? A lot of promises were made early on. You talk to some Iraqis, they -- I mean depending on who you talk to, some say look, promises were broken, promises weren't fulfilled, others say they were.

ARRAF: I think really a lot of it is that they really expected a lot. And you'll remember just going back a few months when the country was first liberated and people did feel it was liberated, that they were free of Saddam, there was this immense optimism and these immense expectations all of a sudden they could have a country. And they expected not only to have a country, they expected electricity, they expected jobs, they expected all of that and they didn't quite materialize. I remember talking to one woman who was standing in line for fuel and she said look, we said we wanted democracy but we've changed our minds. Now all we want is fuel and we want to make a living. And that's still what they are preoccupied with.

COOPER: All right. We're having a slight audio problem also with you. We're going to check back with you just -- in just a moment.

Again, just a remarkable day here in Baghdad. The handover of power has happened. What happens now, though, that is the question? We are anticipating, as we said, this press conference from the Prime Minister Allawi. And yet there is a question about really how much he can promise, how much he can deliver on. He has very limited security services.

The police, the Iraqi police over the last several months, particularly back in April, they had been built up, there were large numbers of them. But when the insurgency really got under way, many of them switched sides. Many of them, frankly, just left their weapons at home and went home. They were not well trained. They were not well armed.

I spoke with U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer earlier today, earlier this week who said that really the mistake that the U.S. had made here was in going for numbers and not really in quality, not really going for those good leaders who could sort of rally other police officers around them. That is one thing both Prime Minister Allawi is going to have to deal with and the U.S. military is going to continue to have to deal with. General David Patreus is in charge of that rebuilding, that reinvigorating both the Iraqi police and the Iraqi military.

There are a number of stories here to talk about this morning. Let's check in with CNN's Octavia Nasr who is standing by at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Octavia, what are you hearing?

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SENIOR EDITOR FOR ARAB AFFAIRS: Arab networks are all over this story just like we are. Al Jazeera sent their reporter Mia Bydoin (ph) in the streets of Baghdad to get some reaction. The first reaction was very positive. People saying we just heard the news were very happy, congratulations to the new Iraqi government. A lot of them speaking about their hopes, their wishes and the requests of this government.

Basically the summary of what people were saying earlier in the day is that the people and the government should come together. This is a test of Iraqi's leadership qualities. This government has a lot to prove. It has to prove that it can control the security and the violence in the country. And it's also a test of the Iraqi people to see if they can stand by their government and support it in a way to tell on the terrorists or the insurgents in the case, a very interesting reaction.

The reaction changed slightly as Al Jazeera just aired another set of reaction, this one from an area of Baghdad that is totally against the coalition, against this government. They say this is a puppet government and nothing really changed. You changed Bremer, brought in Agriponsy (ph). It's yet to be seen. They're saying where is the power, where is the running water, where is -- where is our life? We want our life back they are saying, a very interesting reaction, Anderson.

Now when you take that from the streets, take the reaction away from the street and go to the analysts, analysts in Cairo, in Beirut, in Istanbul, all major cities of the Middle East, the reaction is a bit different. There is analysis of what's going on.

First of all, this decision to announce the handover two days early, most of the observers interviewed on Arab media are saying this is very smart, that the Iraqis are to gain a lot from taking care of the handover two days early because there were warnings that the situation was going to escalate and that the violence was going to get a lot worse by the 30th. They are saying this is very smart also to announce the handover as NATO is meeting in Turkey, because now NATO is dealing with an Iraqi government and not the U.S. and Great Britain -- Anderson.

COOPER: Octavia, we are also hearing reports, reaction on the streets here. We sent a camera crew out the other -- just a few hours ago. This is some of what some of the people had to say.

I asked God to make their work a success, take care of us and be strong. I'm optimistic in which the new government to preserve law and order, most important thing. It's joy for the people, another person said. We wish them success. We want things to go back to calm. You hear that a lot on the streets here in Baghdad. And someone else said every Iraqi is happy for the handover. We got nothing for 14 months. A wide variety of opinions here, not only about the handover of power but about the U.S. presence here in Iraq.

In -- standing by in Istanbul, Turkey, CNN's White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with President Bush. She is at the NATO Summit.

Let's check in with her -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, really a telling moment earlier this morning when NATO members gathered for their morning session. I don't know if we have that video. But it was very clear there was a moment when President Bush looked at his watch. He then (INAUDIBLE). Blair whispered something in his ear. The two of them smiled, they shook hands. It was not obvious or apparent what that moment, the significance of that moment was at the time, but that was around the time the transfer of power occurred.

Now a senior administration official on a background briefing gave us a little bit more details. He says that the president, of course, is very pleased with the news. That this is, of course, a good day for the Iraqi people that they demonstrated they are ready for this turnover of power. How this all happened. He said that it was just within the last couple of days that administration officials had been speaking with Iraqi officials, as well as the coalition authority, about perhaps this early turnover and just what kind of criteria that involved.

We are told that there are two things that had to happen. First, that the Iraqi government had to be ready to actually assume power. That it was of last Thursday, as a matter of fact, that all of the ministers essentially were running the day-to-day operations inside of Iraq.

And second, of course, they had to have the understanding that this really strengthened their hand when it came to security. That that is something that Prime Minister Allawi believed that the early handover of power would do.

So it was about -- it was yesterday afternoon, we are told, that it was the prime minister, Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi who made the final determination, the decision that this would happen two days early, that he communicated that to Ambassador Bremer. Bremer talked with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. It was yesterday, late afternoon, early evening that the president was notified of Allawi's final decision.

We are told that when President Bush met with Prime Minister Blair, they discussed it yesterday. And then, of course, they went into that early morning session knowing very full well when this was going to take place. But clearly the administration rejecting the idea that this was some sort of panic move. They say it is exactly the opposite. They believe that the Iraqi people have demonstrated, they believe particularly the leadership has demonstrated that they are ready to take over control of their country. They wanted it to happen as quickly as possible. They are very pleased that it's taking place today -- Anderson.

COOPER: Suzanne, I talked to a coalition source the other day who said that they were -- had been very concerned in the planning of this that the images, how those images would play both here in Iraq and around the world. They wanted to avoid a paternalistic sort of photo opportunity in which it looked as if the U.S. was handing over something to Iraq. Perhaps that is another one of the reasons behind this sort of low key, almost stealth handover of power, if you will.

A fascinating detail you just gave us on the reaction of President Bush, looking at his watch, not really saying anything, but shaking hands, looking at British Prime Minister Tony Blair, shaking hands, a moment of quiet joy between the two world leaders.

Suzanne, what happens later today for the rest of today in Istanbul? We know Iraq's foreign minister is there. We know where he is wanting a statement of political support from NATO leaders. We know he wants help in retraining the Iraqi army and he wants technical equipment, particularly border detection equipment, because the borders here are so porous. Any sense of his involvement in these meetings later today or what the president is doing later today? MALVEAUX: Well we know that both the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush they are going to be holding a bilateral meeting. And we also expect, of course, we have been told that they are going to talk about this transfer of power, that they are going to congratulate and thank those involved, that they are going to talk about the strength of the Iraqi people.

The president is going to talk about the determination, the will and the strength of the Iraqi leadership, that he is very confident that they are ready to assume power. And we expect that Blair will do the same. They'll also thank the Coalition Provisional Authority for the work and effort that has gone into this.

But really the administration wants to convey this message that they believe now that the power is in the hands of the Iraqi people and they believe that they are ready to assume power, to assume control here. We don't expect that there is going to be any major pomp and circumstance from the president or from the administration.

We have been asking on numerous occasions whether or not the president's schedule was going to change, if there was going to be something on Wednesday, perhaps back in Washington, to signify this big transfer date. It looks like the administration really wants to play this very low key. They want to put a lot of the spotlight, of course, on the Iraqi people.

As you had mentioned before, Anderson, of course one of the big goals for the Iraqi administration, as well as the Bush administration, is to get NATO allies, to get those members of NATO involved in helping train Iraqi troops. That is something that certainly in principle has already been agreed upon from NATO members that they will go ahead and help with those security efforts.

We're also told that statement that's expected to come out of NATO will leave the door open for perhaps looking at other ways to contribute. In all likelihood will allow some countries, like Germany and France who refuse to send their own troops, to train those Iraqis inside their own country -- Anderson.

COOPER: CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live in Istanbul, Turkey. Suzanne, thanks very much. We'll check back with you shortly.

As we said, events are moving fast on the ground here. For some reaction, let's talk to Hassan Fattah. He's the editor of "Iraqi Today." He is in Saudi Arabia this morning.

Hassan, your reaction to this surprise handover. Hassan Fattah, this is Anderson Cooper in Baghdad, can you hear me?

We will try to get Hassan on the phone shortly. He is the editor of "Iraqi Today." We'll check back in with him.

We're standing by with CNN's Jane Arraf, CNN's Baghdad bureau chief.

We were talking a little bit about what the U.S. has and has not accomplished here over the past 13, 14 months. You get a wide variety of opinion on the streets of Baghdad.

ARRAF: You do. I think those people are Iraqis, let's face it, are a bit schizophrenic. It would be hard not to be after what they have lived through. And while they are really grateful that Saddam is gone, for the most part, they still want a lot of other things. And they tend to forget, I think, that if you look at the long view, it is kind of remarkable that we are standing there, that they are able to have what they have, which is a country in which they have relative freedom. But there are still a lot of things they don't have and that's what they are focused on.

COOPER: It is, actually, in speaking to General Patreus the other day, he said look, you have got to look at this thing sort of long term. If you look at where they were and where they are now, you know it is moving in an upward direction. But that's not something you really do hear from a lot of Iraqis.

ARRAF: It isn't. And I think the difference is that maybe if you look at it on paper, they are moving in an upward direction. There are more police on the streets. There are indicators that say the economy is maybe getting a bit better.

But if you are sitting at home in Baghdad or in other cities in Iraq, what you are seeing is the electricity going off. What you are seeing is your neighbors being afraid. You are worried about your car being stolen. You are worried about your kids going to school. It is a much more personal thing that doesn't translate to all those indicators that we see on paper that yes, some things are getting better, but people just don't feel it that much.

COOPER: The other thing you hear a lot from, and particularly U.S. officials here, and just people sort of low level U.S. employees of the coalition, is that you know there's a level of frustration almost that Iraqis or some Iraqis still seem to be on the fence. And there's a desire that they sort of get off the fence and commit. Does it make a difference now? Is that more likely to happen? If that is in fact, is it more likely to happen now after today's handover?

ARRAF: That is such an interesting question. And it's probably one of the key questions, isn't it? But having seen this country, watched this country, lived in this country for years, you can understand why Iraqis stayed on the fence. It was very dangerous to get off that fence. And they still think it's dangerous to get off that fence.

COOPER: Because they don't know which way the wind is blowing still?

ARRAF: They don't know which way this is going to turn out. And in an immediate sense, OK, you might really be upset that someone is setting off car bombs. But if you're going to do something about it, it puts you in danger and your family in danger. And unless you have enough people willing to take that risk or unless you have the kind of security service where you don't have to take that risk, it doesn't seem likely to change. COOPER: Interesting. And we are anticipating a press conference from Iraq's prime minister. And what he has been saying for a while -- for a while now, and U.S. officials have been saying as well, is look, we want more Iraqis to come forward, give us the information. In a sense, get off the fence, provide us with information, be our eyes, be our ears, because without you, this thing is not going to work.

ARRAF: That's absolutely true. But that's kind of easy for someone to say who isn't in that position. I really think we have to remember that people go home at night and they go to neighborhoods that are in the dark, they hear gunfire. It's not as universally horrible, as you know, from being here, as it might seem from little bits of satellite coverage, car bombs going off, but it is still quite an unsettling place and people are very worried.

COOPER: And because the insurgents and foreign fighters, whomever the opposition may be, depending on where you are, have been targeting really those who are cooperating with coalition authorities, in many ways with interpreters, with people who are doctors, with anyone who is in some way contributing positively to this process.

ARRAF: They are. And we have seen those targets widening, haven't we? The assassinations that have gone from first it was coalition targets, then Iraqi targets, now it's pretty well everybody associated with this new Iraq.

COOPER: It is a disturbing trend indeed. We'll check back with you shortly, Jane Arraf.

Again, events moving very fast on the ground here. Want to go back to Hassan Fattah. He is the editor of "Iraqi Today." He is standing by on the telephone from Saudi Arabia.

Hassan, your thoughts as you watch this remarkable day.

HASSAN FATTAH, EDITOR, "IRAQ TODAY": It's -- I am somewhat bewildered, surprised and mildly excited, I guess. It certainly is a surprise to almost everybody that it would happen this way, but somehow it seems to underscore the entire tenor of this occupation.

COOPER: Does it -- does it change the psychology on the ground here? Does it change something intangible?

FATTAH: Well, first and foremost, I think that the -- that doing -- that doing this so much earlier, in fact, I think probably does. It continues on this sort of theme of the Iraqi not being part of this process, which is at the heart of the problems that have been going on. This is a fight for the psyche of the Iraqi, of the Iraqi who is sitting on that fence, and so far we haven't managed to win over that psyche. The Iraqis are still afraid. And therefore, as long as they are still afraid, they are not going to jump on board the whole process.

COOPER: Well that sounds like a catch 22, because unless people do jump off the fence and get on board the process, little will change here.

FATTAH: Exactly. And that's -- it is a catch 22, it is part of the problem. You need people to be involved, and -- but at the same time, a lot of the things that are happening are keeping people from being involved. But I think that there is a way of managing that and I think that there are ways of getting out of a catch 22.

COOPER: Hassan, what -- it's interesting that you say sort of the way this was done, almost sort of a stealth handover is sort of emblematic of the way things have been handled here in the last 12 months or so. What do you mean by that?

FATTAH: Well I think, in generally speaking, it's been a situation in which the -- you know the people themselves are not necessarily the story, but it's about a group of leaders -- leadership -- a political leadership that either has been chosen or has come forward and won the approval of the American occupation. Much more needs to be done.

Now the good news is that now there is an Iraqi government that understands Iraq and the Iraqi mindset. And now -- and now has a chance to essentially begin to pursue the interests of Iraq as Iraqis and underscore that they understand how the Iraqi thinks and what he needs.

COOPER: How difficult a job does Prime Minister Allawi (INAUDIBLE) having problems with the security services here?

FATTAH: Well certainly he has probably the most difficult job of the century. He is going to have to deliver on a lot of things and he is going to probably need to do it soon. I think Iraqis are going to give him the benefit of the doubt for about a month or so and let him do his job. But I think that they are going to get much more restless over -- in a month's time. What you are seeing now is a lot of good will and the hope is that we'll be able to deliver on that good will and benefit from it.

COOPER: But what exactly can he do with his security services at this point? I mean, yes, the U.S. is trying to retrain them, trying to rearm them. But in the short term, is there really much he can do? I mean you know the idea of marshal law, of course, has sort of been discussed a lot, sort of now shunted to the side because it has certain implications, I think, that they -- that they don't necessarily want to take that step. But what kind of moves can he really take?

FATTAH: Well I think right now what you are after is the Iraqi psyche. Don't look at it as actually delivering results as much as beginning to deliver results. And so the goal is right now to begin to, for instance, rope in young people. Start programs for young people that rope them into the process. You begin to bring in the international community in a very big way that begins to sort of show people, Iraqis, that this is no longer just an American process but this is the world that wants us to work out.

There's many little steps like that that may not be delivering on the goods right away. They will not be delivering results right away, but will begin to show, No. 1, intentions, and No. 2, a direction forward. That's what Iraqis really want. They want the kind of light at the end of the tunnel. They want to see where this is going.

COOPER: Well, Hassan, in the last several days, particularly this weekend, we have seen some potentially hopeful signs. We have heard some clerics, some Imams at the pulpits talking about not supporting foreign fighters, about not killing Iraqis because it is Iraqis who have been bearing the brunt of these attacks in the last weeks and months, but particularly in these last several days.

On Thursday, more than a hundred Iraqis were killed, particularly the police forces. Do you see those hopeful signs? I mean is that a significant move that all of a sudden now more and more people seem to be talking about foreign fighters as opposed to a homegrown Iraqi insurgency?

FATTAH: Certainly. I actually think there's a lot to be optimistic about. If nothing else, for the choice of leadership for the government, and if nothing else, for the beginnings of the process. There is hope now.

And I think that certainly I mean we've -- Iraqis have, you know, really for the past year, been able to differentiate between, you know, foreign fighters, if you want to call them, or terrorists, and resistance fighters who want to become part of the political process or to affect the political process. Their goals are different. And I think Iraqis are well aware of the differences in the goals. And I think that right now you will see a time for reconciliation. That's the hope and that's the -- that's what the leadership needs to be focusing on over the next month, two months or so in the leagues.

COOPER: In shala, as they say here, God willing. Hassan, if you could just -- if you could just hold on the line here, we have a sound bite, a statement from Iraq's Foreign Minister Zebari made in Istanbul. Let's play that tape. We have just received it.


HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: We, as Iraqis, are confident and we wanted to demonstrate that we are ready to do that soon as possible, even before the date of June 30. And our parents (ph) back in Baghdad are thinking of this and am going back to Baghdad today after participating in the NATO Summit in Istanbul and we presented our case.

We asked the member of the organization to provide support and assistance, especially training for the Iraqi military and security forces and helping us with equipment. So we are confident. In fact, we wanted to demonstrate to the world that we are ready to assume our full responsibilities. Most of the ministries have now regained their independence. They have been transferred to Iraqis. The Iraqi would be in the -- in the lead from now on. And we are ready.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: That, of course, Iraq's Foreign Minister Zebari, who is in Istanbul right now at the NATO Summit, where he is trying to get a number of things, a statement of political support for the new Iraqi government by NATO leaders. He is also attempting to get help to retrain the Iraqi army within the borders of Iraq. And he also is looking for some technical equipment and most particularly, some border detection equipment to try to stop these -- to try to really seal these borders. They are broken, they are very porous and that is a major problem for the insurgency.

We're talking on the phone with Hassan Fattah the editor of "Iraqi Today." He is in Saudi Arabia.

Hassan, let's talk about the insurgency, these foreign fighters. How much of it, at this point, as you try to get your arms around it, how much of it is foreign fighters, these people coming in through the broken borders, and how much of it is former Saddam supporters or supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr or other militias?

FATTAH: Well I think right now it's more of a snowball than anything else. Six months ago, nine months ago you could have really been able to differentiate between them. It's much harder to do that now. And in fact, there's enough evidence to show that what you have got is a banding together of all these forces.

COOPER: Well that seems incredibly ominous. If there is a morphing of this movement from sort of isolated pockets of resistance to some sort of coordinated movement that does not seem to be a good signal for this new Iraqi government.

FATTAH: Well when I first got to Iraq more than a year ago, I, in the first week in fact, I wrote a story exactly about this and people were predicting this exact same thing happening. In fact, it's ironic how much people saw of all of this happening and very little was done early on.

COOPER: And yet what it seems to be morphing sort of into is more of an Islamist-based movement. We have heard reports, Tony Perry, the "L.A. Times," reporting that up in Fallujah it's become almost sort of like a Taliban-run city. Record stores can't sell music other than religious tracks. Is that really something that -- I mean Iraq doesn't have much history of that. Is that something Iraqis really want?

FATTAH: Well that's the big question. I don't think so. And there have been enough indications that in fact Iraqis are very nervous and unhappy about that in fact. It's still to be seen. Certainly there's a lot of forces that want to take power and want to -- and want to affect things and do it their way. That's what you're seeing as we -- as we speak. It's all about a power vacuum. The hope is that now there is a government that will be filling in for that power vacuum.

COOPER: So you had said you were -- you were mildly optimistic, I think you said that earlier.


COOPER: So your optimism really is based on the notion that somehow Iraqis will not continue to move in the direction of hard line political Islam, of looking for a Taliban like state and that they will, in a sense, break off now that there has been some sort of a handover and these foreign fighters will sort of become more isolated. Is that your hope?

FATTAH: That's the hope. That's one of the hopes. Look, I mean we had to underscore that Iraq has a -- has a sense of nationalism, has a sense of itself. And most of the Iraqis I have been talking to over the past year have emphasized that. And in fact, this is a central issue that's at play. That there are various forces in power that want to either impose their own will on the Iraqis or essentially divide them in order to impose their own will is certainly is nothing new. And we should certainly expect it.

COOPER: Hassan Fattah editor of "Iraq Today." It's fascinating to talk to you, Hassan. Thank you very much for being with us this morning. Hope to talk to you later on today.

Our coverage continues here on CNN, a remarkable day in Baghdad. We'll be right back.



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