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Iraqis Officially in Charge of Their Country Now

Aired June 28, 2004 - 06:30   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Iraqi flag flying now over the sovereign country. Good morning from the CNN Global Headquarters in Atlanta. I'm Betty Nguyen in for Carol Costello.
Looking again at our top story, a surprise in Baghdad. The Iraqis are officially in charge of their country now. And U.S. administrator Paul Bremer is on his way out of Iraq. The transfer of sovereignty came two days ahead of schedule in a low-key ceremony about four hours ago.

CNN's Anderson Cooper is anchoring our live coverage in Baghdad. We want to go to him right now. This is a historic day, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A historic, and a surprising day as you noted, Betty. At 10:26 a.m. local Baghdad time today. A very quiet ceremony, sort of very hush hush. A few reporters present.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour was there.

But really, without any clear idea on where they had been asked to go this morning. The handover of power did take place. U.S. administrator, now ex-U.S. administrator Paul Bremer. He had signed the document earlier. The documents were handed over to various government officials of the new Iraqi government.

Present of course, was the Iraq's new president, as well as Iraq's new prime minister, as well as one of the top judges of the supreme court, a bunch of statements this morning. We have recently just heard from Brigadier General Mark Kimmett, the spokesman for the U.S. military coalition authorities here. Let's hear what he had to say earlier today.


BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMETT: It's a day that 800-plus American soldiers have dies to see. And I know that every one of these soldiers were they here, would say I understand what we are doing. And this is what we fought and dies for.


COOPER: That was Brigadier General Mark Kimmett. Now ex-U.S. administrator Paul Bremer, Ambassador Paul Bremer has left Iraq. He flew by helicopter from the green zone. That's the tightly controlled area inside Baghdad where much of the Coalition Authority have been living. Many of the Westerners have been living there. That's where Ambassador Bremer has been living. He left by helicopter there. Then boarded a plane. He has flown out of the country. We are going to get some video of that shortly I'm told.

I'm joined right now by CNN's Brent Sadler, who has been in and out of Iraq right now for more than 20 years. Your thoughts this morning.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT, BAGHDAD: One thing, Anderson, first of all, one has to look at what has actually happened. This transfer of sovereignty crucially important for the United States to be seen to me moving out politically from the political arena here.

But let's look at it from the Iraqi perspective. This country for 27 years under Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule was used to all power being vested in one man. You know, when I come back here now, even 14 months after the occupation began, not to see any pictures of Saddam Hussein around the place. It is still surprising.

COOPER: Sure. Yes.

SADLER: They used to want power, all power in one man. When all seeing, all pervasive security service, called the macavera (ph). Many different eyes and ears everywhere. If you listen to what Allawi was saying, he wants Iraqi's to start serving the intelligence to pull that again. I think you have some video coming in.

COOPER: Yes. We have video of Ambassador Paul Bremer leaving. Let's show this video. We were told that earlier today he took helicopter immediately after the handover ceremony, flew by helicopter to the Baghdad Airport, where he then boarded a plane and flew out.

I actually traveled with the ambassador for about two days last week as he toured various parts of the country, to Tikrit, the ancestral homeland of Saddam Hussein, to Mosul, to Kurdish areas in the North, Irbil and the like. One of his last trips through Iraq.

I asked him what he would be thinking and feeling when he actually boarded that last flight out. This is what he said to me. He said, "I suppose it will be a combination of joy and sorrow as you can expect it would be. I have put a lot in here over the last 13 months. I've come to like this country. I have a lot of friends here. And I will miss them. On the other hand, I have not seen my family for six months. And I took two days off in 13 months. So I am looking forward to some rest."

Well deserved rest for U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer as he has left Iraq now. John Negroponte, the new U.S. ambassador will be coming here sometime in the next several days. The U.S. is building a massive embassy here. It is going to be among the largest U.S. embassies anywhere in the world. It should be located again, in the green zone. That area where this handover happened this morning.

Brent, let's talk a little bit about the security situation here on the ground. It is very quiet here today. This morning. You are not seeing much reaction. No gunshots and the like at this point in this area. Yet security here is such a big concern. What can Prime Minister Allawi really do? That security forces are badly trained, badly equipped?

SADLER: I have spent quite some time in the south, and when we were able to, in the central parts of the country, and especially the north of the country. You have very diverse areas. The south by comparison to the center is much calmer. That summed up quite predominately (ph), British control with a multinational division down there.

In the Northern area, the Kurds have pretty much their own (UNINTELLIGIBLE), security forces. It's the center that is really going to be the tough nut to crack. And really, I think the government wants to bring forward it's own intelligence services as much as anything else.

No, these new forces don't have the firepower to punch (ph) to defeat the insurgents in the way that the U.S. can. But certainly, they can use Iraqi on Iraqi to get the important intelligence as to where the bad guys are, how they can get them, and if needs be, use money to buy that information.

COOPER: I talked to one Iraqi about his relationship with the security services, and he said, look, we know who the bad guys are. Give us the files. Give us the intelligence networks. And we can identify them much quicker than you can. We know who is the foreign fighter. We know who should be here, and who shouldn't be here. You hear that sort of thing a lot.

SADLER: Absolutely. And more importantly, the poorest borders. I was down on the Arabian border a few days ago. And I was speaking to just 35 Iraqis likely armed. And I said what is it like now, compared to what it was when Saddam Hussein was in power? They told me a bird couldn't get through them, because you had patrols all the way along, military patrols from Saddam's army.

Now, vast swathes of the border areas are porous between Kuwait and Iraq, between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, between Iran and Syria of course, and the border issue is going to be a major problem.

COOPER: And that of course is one of things which is added to this growing insurgency. These foreign fighters who have come in here. Their exact number is unknown at this point. But if the U.S. of course continued to name one man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as perhaps the terrorist mastermind if you will of many of these foreign fighters.

It is interesting to see what is going to happen, how concentrated the effort by Iraq security services can be at this point against those foreign fighters, and whether there will be some sort of a wedge drawn between foreign fighters, and Iraqis who have been taking part in actions against the coalition.

SADLER: I think essentially the new government will be after the hardcore Islamic extremists. Those who are spreading that kind of firebrand violent attacks that have really behind what we have seen recently, those are the guys they are going to be after.

And they will be using the best they can on eyes and ears on the ground, through their only Iraqi emerging intelligence. Let's (ph) get it stripped away with Saddam Hussein was toppled from power. That needs to come back into place. All Iraqi security men will tell you that.

COOPER: Prime Minister Allawi has talked about offering an amnesty, or at least a partial amnesty to those who maybe were opposed to the coalition, but were not out killing people, were not out murdering people, trying in some way, with what little he has to work with, to try to limit this insurgency, which, as we have seen in the last couple of days, still has a lot of punch to it.

SADLER: Exactly. That is an incentive. He is saying look, if you have information, come forward with it. And if you have not got blood on your hands, if you have not been engaged with violent attacks against the coalition, or Iraqis, then we will give you a pardon. It's not an open-ended pardon. But it certainly is the beginning of -- to yet allow his government -- trying to reassert some credibility in the eyes of the Iraqis.

Don't forget, Iraqis here know. They watch enough television; listen to enough radio from their own Arab sources to know that essentially this is the face of a new government. The guts, the boiler room in terms of security, will still be making (ph) mistakes.

COOPER: All right. CNN's Brent Sadler, we will check in with you shortly.

Our coverage continues this morning on this really remarkably historic, and yet remarkably quiet day here in Baghdad. The handover of power to the new sovereign Iraqi government. We are seeing some moving of U.S. equipment. Some military equipment. Our coverage continues.

We will be right back.


COOPER: You are looking at a picture of the old Iraqi flag flying near the convention center. Where earlier today, the handover of power happened in the green zone. That U.S.-controlled territory, tightly controlled area there. Handover of power happened to the new sovereign Iraqi government.

U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer, who has been the U.S. administrator here, he is now the ex-U.S. administrator. He has left Iraq already. Shortly after the handover of power he flew by helicopter from the green zone to the Baghdad Airport, where he boarded a plane, and has left Iraq.

Earlier this week, I spent two days with Ambassador Bremer on one of his final trips into the North of Iraq to meet with Kurdish officials, to go to Mosul, to go to Irbil, to go to Kirkuk or actually to Tikrit, and a number of other places. It was an interesting trip in which we saw Ambassador Bremer sort of reflecting on his final days here,reflecting on the past 13 months that he served as the top U.S. official in Iraq. Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In his final days in Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer is still on the move, still trying to remain positive about what the U.S. has accomplished here.

PAUL BREMER, FMR. CIVILIAN ADMINISTRATOR: That's the most important thing that has happened over the year is change in the political and economic structure of Iraq. There is a lot more to do, obviously. But they basically have got a path before them now which if they can carry it out, takes them to democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Working 18-hour days, he's traveling the country, hoping to shore up support for the new Iraqi government.

BREMER: I think my biggest regret is that we were not able to mobilize a lot of the heavy-duty reconstruction more quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Critics say Bremer was either to political, or simply naive. Failing to understand the culture and politics of Iraq. Underestimating the economic and security needs.

BREMER: I think we focused to much on building up numbers in the security forces, without focusing enough on the quality. This is particular true in the police, where I think we've got a long way to go before we get our professional police force.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bremer has served for 13 months now. He will soon be heading home, tired but proud.

BREMER: I think the American people can be proud of what we've done here. I think the people -- the families who have lost sons and daughters here, they have been involved in a noble enterprise, freeing this country from a terrible tyranny. And putting them on the path to success. And I think we can feel good about that.


COOPER: That was Ambassador Paul Bremer several days ago. He has now left the country. John Negroponte will be the new U.S. ambassador to the sovereign nation of Iraq. He is anticipated to arrive here sometime in the next several days.

I am joined now on the phone by (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He is the Deputy Foreign Minister here in Iraq. Thank you for being with us Mr. Deputy Foreign Minister. What can you tell us? What changed in the hearts and the minds of Iraqis at 10:26 am when that handover of power took place?

HAMUD AL-BAYAT, DEP. FOREIGN MINISTER, IRAQ: I think it is a huge change. It is the end of peculation (ph). And this is the start of a new independent and sovereign Iraqi government. And that will effect the life of the Iraqi people. And I think it will deprive the terrorists from their important (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Iraqis and their occupation. And that they are fighting occupying (ph) forces.

COOPER: There has been much talk that we will see some sort of a change in tactics. Some sort of a change in attitude of the Iraqi forces. What should we expect to hear and see in the next several days?

AL-BYAT: Well, we have already seen some deployment of military forces, and police forces. But that at least have not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) myself for the army and the police force. And then I think in the next couple of days, we are going to see a new security plan announced by the Prime Minister.

And the Iraqi government approached to the most important issue, which is the security (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Iraq.

COOPER: but without a well-equipped security force -- an Iraqi police with a high morale, what really can you do on the ground differently then you have been doing for the last several months?

AL-BYAT: I think the Iraqis will be able to talk to the nation much more easily than the Americans are, and the other foreign forces. It was not the language of (ph) tradition that comes (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And the Iraqis will feel more comfortable to talk to Iraqi colors (ph) other than to foreign forces. This is one thing.

The second, I think we will seek the help of other countries. Including NATO members to train and equip our forces until such a time when we have an Iraqi army, police force, and security organization up and running.

COOPER: Iraq's Foreign Minister is at the NATO summit in Istanbul at this point. He's asking really for a number of things from NATO leaders. You talked about help and training the new Iraqi army. You want that help to take place within the borders of the newly sovereign Iraq. You are also looking for a statement of support from NATO leaders. Why is that so important?

AL-BAYAT: It is so important because we need the whole (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the power to stand beside the Iraqi people, and the new Iraqi government. And more than that. As we mentioned earlier, we still need the training and the equipment of our military forces. And I think NATO members will be able to provide some of these. And training and equipment. Especially for the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and other countries.

COOPER: How big a problem are the poorest borders of Iraq? How big a concern are they for you? I know that is one of the things the Foreign Minister is trying to seek from NATO leaders. Technical equipment. Border detection devises. How big a problem are the borders?

AL-BAYAT: Borders are a big problem for us basically because they are long borders. And we know that as some terrorists (ph) are infiltrating Iraq through these borders. Which are the Zakaria (ph) group and other groups. Therefore, guarding these borders will be our priority if we want to maintain security in the country. COOPER: There has been much discussion about the insurgency against -- about those fighting. Both the U.S. soldiers here and Iraqi police, Iraqi civilians. As you look at them, who are they? Are they just foreign fighters? Or is there some sort of link up between former Saddam elements and these foreign groups.

AL-BAYAT: Yes. Of course. And I think there was some alliance between Saddam's regime and these groups. And I published a book in 2001 following the September 11th attacks in which I brought evidence about Saddam's link to al-Qaeda and to Zakaria (ph). And I mentioned that Saddam harbored groups such as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) CKK (ph), (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and other groups.

Every year Saddam used to harp about what he called a Islamic (ph) conference in which he brought people from all over the world. Including Hispanic American who were actually trained (ph) in this country to conduct a terrorist attack in different parts of the world.

And many evidence in that show that there was a real link between Saddam and terrorist (ph) groups such as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and Zakaria (ph). And now it is very, very obvious that Zakaria (ph) was in Iraq. For a long time he managed to (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He didn't lose his way. And came to Iraq suddenly after Saddam's regime fell. And he found all these supporters and loyalists.

So there is an alliance between Saddam's loyalists, and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) group. In addition to some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) groups such as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) which is an Iraqi Islamic (UNINTELLIGIBLE) groups.

COOPER: And the U.S. has struck three times in recent days at what they describe as the Zakaria (ph) network. At three safe houses in the Fallujah area. Killed a number of foreign fighters. But at this point, Abu (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Zakaria (ph) is still at large.

Hamud Al-Byat, Deputy Foreign Minister, thank you for joining us this morning on this historic morning. And our coverage continues. WE will be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back live from Baghdad. I'm Anderson Cooper on this historic day. The handover of power has occurred. Ambassador Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official here in Iraq has left the country. He is now the ex-administrator of Iraq. He is on his way home. He left a short time ago after handing over power to the new Iraqi government, to the new president, to the new prime minister.

Other members of the Iraqi top leadership. That handover of power not only symbolic, but also an important handover on the ground tactically. Prime Minister Allawi is anticipating to give a press conference in just a few moments. To try to describe what he is going to do differently. How he is going to try to get his arms around this insurgency.

These foreign fighters who have been really just wreaking havoc and bloodshed throughout Iraq over the last months. In particularly the last several days we have seen an uptick in violence. On Thursday, more than 100 Iraqis were killed. In particular, what they are targeting is the Iraqi infrastructure, military personnel, Iraqi police officers, anybody who is contributing in some way to Iraqi society. That is who they are going after.

It is a very difficult challenge indeed for the new government. Probably their top challenge for the new government to try to deal with. I'm joined by CNN's Brent Sadler. A man who has spent more than 20-some years here in Iraq. Security is the number one issue. When you talk to Iraqis, that is what they said they want. That is what they need. The U.S. is pushing a lot of equipment, a lot of Kevlar vests, RPGs to even the police officers. But is that going to be enough?

SADLER: What people want as you say Anderson, law and order. For 27 years I've (UNINTELLIGIBLE) rule. They did have order in a sense, but there was no criminality. No Islamic extremes and this kind of thing on the level that we have seen for the past 14 months.

Is it enough just to supply the police force and the Iraqi National Guard with flight jackets, light weapons? If you compare what was here before, there was armor, heavy weaponry, tanks. Saddam Hussein had the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) militarily to go and crush insurgents just like he did after the 1991 Gulf War. When he was at the bottom of the pile of you like. After the defeat by the coalition in that war.

He was still able to take out the Shiite (ph) in the South, and defeat the Kurds in the North. Because he had the firepower. And that is not here in terms of the Iraqi security forces. Nor, is it planned anytime soon. And it is interesting isn't it Anderson? As we hear now, strike planes overhead now. On the day that sovereignty is transferred. That tells you who is in power. Real military power. Security power, security power. And that is the United States.

COOPER: Well the U.S. has no intention of leaving anytime soon in terms of their personnel on the ground. More than 130,000 U.S. military personnel here on the ground. And they are tasked now with -- with sort of this odd role of somehow training the Iraqis security services, and yet standing back as much as possible, not being as much of a presence on the streets.

Whether or not they are going to be able to do that though, is really an open question.

SADLER: Yes, what else can they do though? Yes they are supplying. They are equipping. Getting NATO support for the training program, and the re-equipping program. But let's not forget this whole process of defeating Saddam Hussein, occupation of Iraq, and handing over to an Iraqi government, an interim government.

This has all been telescoped down. It was expected that the United States and the coalition partners would have a longer period of time to stabilize Iraq. And the level of insurgency was not anticipated. Things have had to go faster than expected. And the training program is going to have to accelerate. It is still way behind.

COOPER: And what you do hear though, is a sense of optimism over the last several days. I've noticed it just in talking to people. I talked to a doctor in a hospital who said he wants the U.S. to stay. He doesn't like the occupation. He doesn't like how it has been handled. But he wants them here.

He did seem optimistic about the future. We have been hearing some clerics calling for peace, calling for an end to attacks, saying look, this is counterproductive. The people who are being killed are Iraqis. Our men, our women, our children, our police officers, people who are trying to hold this society together.

The question that really remains is will enough Iraqis get off the fence, and get behind this new government to make a difference?

SADLER: Indeed. And that is what Iyad Allawi, the interim prime minister is trying to do, he is trying to encourage people to come forward, to give information about insurgents activity, and to offer them an amnesty, a pardon in exchange for it. It's exactly what is trying to be accomplished right now. But this is going to take time, and take persistence.

COOPER: All right, Brent Sadler, thanks very much. We'll check in with you shortly. Betty, a remarkable day here in Iraq. Events are moving very quickly on the ground. We anticipate a news conference, as we said, any minute now. Let's go back to you in Atlanta. Betty?

NGUYEN: All right. Thank you Anderson. We want to bring in now senior international editor David Clinch to talk about the situations developing in Iraq. We are also standing by for a swearing-in ceremony. Tell us what this symbolizes.

DAVID CLINCH, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL EDITOR: Well, this is what we are told we are going to see soon. We are seeing the preparations for it now, as a swearing-in ceremony. Now the interim government had already in some form been sworn in under the U.S. administration. What we're told to expect today is the Iraqi swearing themselves in.

There is now an Iraqi judicial system. There is now an Iraqi interim government. We are expecting to see a swearing-in ceremony, and potentially speeches from the prime minister, president and others.

And you know job one, there is so much going on today. Job one is to get it right. There are so many things swirling around. We are hearing rumors and reports from all sorts of sources today. Not just about this handover ceremony having happened two days early, but also about all sorts of other things to do.

Absolute priority today. We've got so many reporters in Baghdad, and in Istanbul and elsewhere, is to get the story right. We are just hearing from NATO that the first act of this interim government, or it's foreign minister in Istanbul, was to formerly request what NATO has said it would do, which was to train Iraqi forces. NATO we are being told now is to announce today that it will officially confirm that it will offer training for the Iraqi forces.

NGUYEN: But it doesn't say where.

CLINCH: It does not yet. Those details are being worked out. So we will be watching closely in Istanbul today. We are also watching in the streets of Baghdad. We are hearing from a lot of Iraqis. We will be feeding (ph) this material soon, saying they are very happy to hear about this government. But they really want the U.S. forces to leave.

It's funny. We talk about foreign fighters being involved in the insurgencies. When the Baghdad people that we talk to talk about foreign fighters, they are talking about the American soldiers.

NGUYEN: OK, but how realistic is that? Because they need those U.S. forces there for security obviously.

CLINCH: Absolutely. No doubt about it. The Iraqi interim government making it absolutely clear that while of course long term they need the U.S. to leave, in the immediate sense security -- there is only one entity in Iraq that can supply security right now, and that is the U.S.

But there will be some interesting statements today by the prime minister and others in regard to perhaps incremental changes that the Iraqis think they can make in terms of hitting at this insurgency, getting Iraqis on the front lines.

NGUYEN: And speaking of that, there is one British soldier that was killed today we understand. According to wire reports, this came just as the transfer of power happened.

CLINCH: As it was happening in the south. The insurgency is not over.

NGUYEN: Well we do want to update our top story for those of you just joining us. Sovereignty was officially transferred this morning, two days early. From the U.S.-led coalition to the interim Iraqi government. The coalition civilian administrator Paul Bremer and a small group of Iraqi government officials gathered at coalition headquarters.

And at 2:26 Eastern Time this morning, Bremer passed the official transfer document to Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Bremer and the Iraqi spoke briefly, then he left to begin his trip home. And now we want to take you to CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" in New York with the latest on this transfer of power.


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