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U.S. Hands Over Power to Iraqis Early; NATO Agrees to Help Train Iraqis; New Iraqi Government Promises to Crackdown on Insurgents

Aired June 28, 2004 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The surprise handover of power took place just hours ago in Baghdad. Chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour was called in to witness the handover ceremony. She joins us live from Baghdad this morning. Christiane, good morning again.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. There were just a handful of journalists and a handful of officials there for this ceremony. It was very secret. We did not know what was going on when we were called over very early this morning. But about 10:26 local Baghdad time, Paul Bremer, now the ex-administrator of Iraq, the ex-U.S. administrator, stood up and presented the blue- bound legal document of the transfer of sovereignty to the new Iraqi prime minister, who then shared it with the new supreme court justice. And they gave it to the new president of Iraq.

At that moment, Iraq was a sovereign entity, and this was the new government, the new key leaders of the Iraqi government.

As I say, it was very, very secretive. They did -- they did talk about how historic and happy a day it was that they hope this would bring Iraq back into the community of nations.

And then, a few hours later, just finished. They've had the swearing in of the cabinet. That was slightly more public in that it was still closed, except to a handful of people, but they did allow that to be broadcast. So that was broadcast live.

And at that point, again, the prime minister reiterated in a long speech setting out his agenda, how important and how top a priority establishing security is.


IYAD ALLAWI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Dear free brothers. I warn the forces of terror once again, we will not forget who stood by us and who stood against us in this crisis. Here I arouse the efforts of people to defend the sacred places and the country.


AMANPOUR: So he reached out, not only to other members of the Iraqi people, in other words, calling them to give information, but to disbanded and disgruntled members of Saddam's former Baathist Party or former military commanders, saying, "Come into the tent. Give us information. Lay down your arms. Be part of the new Iraq."

An amnesty, a pardon has been offered to any of those in the insurgency who will come in and give information about what's going on here now in terms of the terrorism and the insurgents.

He also went on to list his priorities, such as economic and political, rehabilitation. And he did, by listing what had to be done, acknowledge that so much has to be done.

The U.S. has had to leave early because of this violence and, therefore, while the building blocks of a future Iraq are being laid, the whole experiment is still very much in play, and it now depends on the Iraqi government with as much support as they can possibly get from the outside -- Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CO-HOST: Christiane Amanpour, a witness to the handover this morning, joining us from Baghdad. Christiane, thanks.

BILL HEMMER, CO-HOST: From Baghdad now to Istanbul. NATO alliance leaders giving President Bush a victory today in regard to Iraq at their summit in Turkey.

Our senior White House correspondent John King now with details there.

John, good afternoon.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon to you, Bill. Good morning backing the states.

No question, Mr. Bush has a bit of a bounce in his step. He's in a very upbeat mood as is his senior staff with him here at the NATO summit. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld among those on hand.

You know that the president's political victory, the NATO leaders meeting this morning and endorsing a plan for the NATO alliance to provide new training help for the new Iraqi military and security forces.

Now, that commitment is vague. So far, no exact word on when, how and where that NATO training and assistance will take place. But the White House still says it is a significant victory and step forward and proof that the bitter debate over the war is in the past and that the whole international community now coming together to try to help the new Iraqi government.

As the dramatic moment of transition was taking place in Baghdad, Mr. Bush himself was at the morning session here of the NATO leaders. Hard to know at the time, but we now know in hindsight exactly what the president was thinking when at 10:26, he looked at his watch, exchanged a few happy glances with aides and then a glance over and then a handshake with his chief ally in the war in Iraq, the British prime minister, Tony Blair.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are meeting a lit later here in Istanbul, and they will speak to reporters after their meeting. It will be interesting to hear their thoughts on this transition now to the new interim sovereign Iraqi government.

Mr. Bush clearly upbeat, administration officials saying they believe the new government is already proving that it wants to quickly move on the security front, that it was Prime Minister Allawi's idea to move forward with this handover of sovereignty two days early.

Still, Bill, we should note the president in upbeat spirits. He believes he is getting more international support. Still, though, 140,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. When they will start coming home, still an open question, and the president's leadership for his decision to go to war, including the post-war administration in Iraq, still an issue back home in the presidential campaign as well. That's unlikely to change, Bill.

HEMMER: John, thanks for that. John King in Istanbul.

Let's take one of your questions now. What does it mean now, the handover, for U.S. troops in Iraq?

CNN military analyst retired Major General Don Shepperd of the Air Force with us live in Tucson.

Don, good morning to you.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Good morning, Bill.

HEMMER: We are told that NATO will now help train these Iraqi forces. Where does that happen? Does that happen in Iraq or does that happen in some place in Hungary? Does that take place in the eastern desert of Jordan like we've seen in the past?

What are the details, if you know of any at the point?

SHEPPERD: Yes, probably some of each, Bill. It's still being worked out. It's still being negotiated.

It's very unlikely that the NATO nations beyond the 16 that are already providing troops will provide further troops. They can provide money, relief of debt and help with this training.

Some of it will be done in country. Some of it will be done in Europe, and it's still being worked out. There are no details as of right now. But the United States and the coalition is pushing to have as much of it done as possible right in Iraq itself.

HEMMER: Don, as a military man, how important is this, this move by NATO?

SHEPPERD: Bill, it's real important. The United States forces are really stretched, and it's very clear to everybody that, unless there's something unforeseen on the horizon, we're going to be in Iraq a long time doing these rotations. We are really stretched.

And any help that we can get, from a money standpoint and also a troop standpoint, to accelerate the training of Iraqi forces so they can take over the security and the operations in their own country is very, very important.

HEMMER: Don, here's the problem we consistently hear about in reports out of Iraq. Iraqis who are members of defense forces consistently say in large percentages now that they cannot take on their fellow Iraqis and fight them.

How does that mindset change? How is it in the sense of the military, do you get that to change in Iraq?

SHEPPERD: Well, you do it, of course, through training and instilling values. But the point that we've got to get across to the Iraqi defense forces of whatever type, whether it's police or military, is you are defending your own country.

And the Jihadists that are operating in your own country are destroying the future of your country. They're destroying its infrastructure; they're killing its people. And you have to go against these people and the Iraqis, the former insurgents that are guarding them.

For instance, in Fallujah, it's become a redoubt for foreign fighters. You've got to change their mindset and say you have to go after these people or Iraq's not going to have a future and neither are you. And it's a tough sell, Bill.

HEMMER: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the other day said that he expects the violence to tick up toward June 30, which would have been Wednesday. Does it dampen down now, do you believe, or not?

SHEPPERD: I don't think so. I think the violence is going to continue because the insurgents want to show the people that this new interim government cannot take over.

They want to prevent the registration of voters, which will take place in the fall. They want to prevent the new elections that are scheduled for January 2005.

I think the violence will continue. I think U.S. troops will continue to get shot and be shot at even on the boats, as we're on our way out.

HEMMER: So you disagree, then, with the secretary of defense when he says things will, I think the word was settle down once the interim government solidifies its control?

SHEPPERD: I don't think they'll settle down, and I think as the interim government takes more harsh measures for -- for instance in places like Fallujah, which has to be tackled, I think that you will see intense efforts on the part of the insurgents to make sure that the people think this interim government cannot control their security and their future.

HEMMER: And one final thought here. They talk about marshal law. I think the phrase actually is emergency law when it's enacted by a civilian authority, as we have in the case now of Iraq. Is that a good idea? SHEPPERD: Well, there's two bad things about emergency law or martial law. One of them is you have to be able to enforce it, which means you have to have the troops to do it to uphold the curfews and what have you.

The other thing is you limit civil liberties, and we have a new government that's trying to increase civil liberties for the population. Martial law goes against both of those things. So again, it's a tough sell, Bill.

HEMMER: Retired Major General Don Shepperd, thanks, in Tucson, Arizona. Always good to talk to you.

SHEPPERD: Thank you.

HEMMER: Here's Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Of course, the impact of the handover on the troops is just one of the questions involving the role of the military this morning.

Let's take you right to Kathleen Koch. She's at the Pentagon for us.

Good morning to you, Kathleen.


Well, the new Iraqi government was saying even before this morning's surprise handover that restoring order and dealing with these insurgents would be its top priority. And now it's turning out that this insurgency is really better organized than anyone had expected.

And we are expecting to be hearing more from the Pentagon today on a variety of issues. But again, let's go back to our story on the insurgency.


KOCH (voice-over): More kidnappings. More attacks on Baghdad's Green Zone and U.S. forces in Iraq. U.S. officials now no longer describing the violence as the random acts of killers and thugs but instead as an orchestrated campaign.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: There certainly is a level of coordination, in my judgment, and hopefully we can penetrate whatever system is operating there, whatever command and control system is at work.

KOCH: Iraq's incoming prime minister reveals the new government's initial strategy will be to offer amnesty to resistance fighters without blood on their hands.

ALLAWI: Provided they come forward and give information about the hardcore people or the people whom they have assisted. This is a possibility that my government is looking at.

KOCH: But Iraq's new defense minister vowed no mercy for the remaining insurgents, telling "Newsweek" magazine, quote, "We have different laws than you do. We will cut off their hands and behead them."

A troubling development, say some U.S. lawmakers.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, certainly, this isn't exactly what we were hoping we were going to set up here when we talked about going in and creating a new Iraq.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: It is difficult. It is tough. But this is their world. And if they're going to make something of their world, then they're going to have to not only win it, but then frame it in their way.


KOCH: And also of concern that to crack down on this insurgency, the new government is planning to bring back what it calls decent members of Saddam Hussein's army and police force. Though Soledad, clearly sorting the good from the bad will not be easy.

O'BRIEN: That might be the understatement of the year, right Kathleen? Kathleen Koch for us at the Pentagon. Thanks.

One journalist who has been closely covering aspects of the Iraq story is "Newsweek" magazine's investigative correspondent, Michael Isikov.

And earlier I asked him about the timing of this surprise handover of power and if he thought it was done to dodge attacks that insurgents -- insurgents, rather, may have been planning for Wednesday.


MICHAEL ISIKOV, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK": Well, that's certainly one of the reasons. Everybody anticipated that the insurgents were going to try to strike, you know, once more, have a dramatic attack timed to the handover.

And this was a way of preempting them. It was a statement, sort of an assertion of power, of affirmative action by the -- by the new Allawi government. And, you know, tactically, it makes -- it makes a lot of sense.

Whether it's going to make any difference over the long haul is unclear. I mean, the insurgents are still there. They are still dedicated to -- the American troops are still there. They still -- The insurgents are still dedicated to fomenting as much violence and instability as possible.

So we'll -- we'll just have to wait and see how this plays out. But as a short-term tactical matter, as I said, it does seem to make sense.

O'BRIEN: Foreign Minister Zabari, who's in Turkey for the NATO meeting, says that he thinks Iraqis can do -- and he says confidently that Iraqis can do a much better job on security than the coalition has done so far.

What do you make of that comment?

ISIKOFF: Well, hard to say. Clearly there's been all sorts of problems in training Iraqis to serve in police and military units. There have been desertions. There's been a lack of will.

But, you know, I think the theory is, or the hope is that having a -- an Iraqi government in charge, in control, can help shift the dynamic and perhaps bring Iraqis to a point where they'll want to defend now what's being perceived as fighting for their government, as opposed to American occupation government.

But we're going to just have to wait and see whether that's a reality or not.

O'BRIEN: Your article in "Newsweek" focuses on a guy who was an al Qaeda commander. His name is Ibn al-Sheikh Al-Libi. He was captured in November of 2001, right after 9/11.

What's his importance? Who is he and what's his value?

ISIKOFF: Well, he actually, although he's not sort of well known. He wasn't a high profile -- quite as high profile a guy as some others captured, he was the first high-level al Qaeda who was captured after the September 11 attacks, and he provided a lot of intelligence to his interrogators.

And his intelligence formed the basis for one of the most sensational charges that the Bush administration made in their run-up to the war in Iraq. And that is that Iraq had provided training in poisons and gases for al Qaeda.

It was, if you go back to Secretary of State Powell's speech, it was one of the more dramatic flourishes in his speech, in which he talks about a senior terrorist operative who has now told his story, and the story is about how al Qaeda had looked around to beef up its chemical and biological warfare capabilities and turned to Iraq.

Well, now as we report in this week's "Newsweek," it turns out that al-Libi has changed his story, has essentially recanted after being confronted with new evidence and new testimony from other detainees. CIA interrogators went back to him, and he altered his version of events.

What's significant is, as I said, this is one of the more dramatic charges that the Bush administration made during the run-up to war, and if you noticed after last -- two weeks ago when the 9/11 commission released its findings, casting doubt on whether there had been a collaborative relationships between Iraq and al Qaeda, the -- the White House did not reassert the intelligence that had come from al-Libi.


O'BRIEN: That was investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff, who's got two articles in the July 5 issue of "Newsweek."

HEMMER: About 15 minutes past the hour. Want to get back to Betty Nguyen again, taking care of the other news this morning. The other news, again, is all about Iraq.

Betty, good morning there.

BETTY NGUYEN, ANCHOR: Of course, it is. and we begin with Iraq.

Just hours after the power handover there, the process is reportedly under way to transfer legal custody of Saddam Hussein to the Iraqi government. A coalition source telling the Associated Press that Iraq will gain legal access to Saddam, but the U.S. will retain physical custody of the former Iraqi leader.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is reportedly planning to speed up the withdrawal from Gaza. Prime Minister Sharon telling lawmakers behind closed doors that Israelis leaving the settlements voluntarily can receive some compensation as early as tomorrow. Israel had been planning to begin that withdrawal in August.

Now this announcement follows violence in the region. Two rockets fired from Gaza killed at least two people and left several others wounded today. Hamas has claimed responsibility.

Here in the U.S., hundreds of frequent flyers in Minnesota are signing up for the express lane today. Minneapolis-St. Paul International is the first U.S. airport to test a security prescreening program.

A select group of passengers will be able to submit personal and biometric information, like fingerprints. Those who pass will be allowed to use a special security lane, a fast lane.

And breaking a world record is a piece of cake for one small town in Peru. More than 300 bakers are working to create an 807-foot cake. Check it out. about 500 children who celebrate birthdays in June, well, they sang happy birthday and blew out the candles.

About 15,000 people took part in eating that dessert. Now that is my kind of celebration. How about you, Soledad?

O'BRIEN: You know you don't even have to ask, Betty. Absolutely. Thanks a lot.


Chad Myers at the CNN Center with the latest forecast for us.

Hey, Chad, good morning.


HEMMER: All right, Chad. Thanks for that.

Back to Jack Cafferty again, "Question of the Day." Good morning.

JACK CAFFERTY, CO-HOST: Thank you, Bill.

Well, the handover of power in Iraq complete. Did you notice there were no women at that ceremony this morning?

HEMMER: That ceremony. Five men, right?

But there are other women who are officially taking care of minister positions.

CAFFERTY: But the ceremony of the first one that was broadcast around the world to show that the Iraqis are now in charge of their own country. There were no women in the picture. Just a little thing I noticed.

Major tasks of the new government will be many. Get ready for elections by January 31 of next year and day-to-day running of the country, work with the U.S.-led multinational force.

They can ask foreign troops to leave their soil, however it's unlikely they will. If they did, it's probably unlikely we would.

The question is: "How does the handover change things in Iraq?" Here are some of the e-mails.

John in Willard, Ohio: "I don't think it will change anything unless the American troops can maintain a low profile, which they cannot because the Iraqi security is not prepared to take over yet. The situation may get worse."

Hal in Missouri, "Admittedly, the changes will be subtle. Instead of occupation forces, for example, our troops will now be known as the army that never leaves. A term painfully familiar to people living in places like Japan, Germany and South Korea."

Bob in Atlanta, Georgia: "I think the major change in Iraq after the handover today is that the administration will have someone else to blame when things go wrong in Iraq so that George Bush will have a better chance of winning the election. Just more political maneuvering."

And Amanda in Jacksonville, North Carolina: "I'm excited about the Iraq handover. My husband's in the Marines. He just returned from Afghanistan. I was afraid that he would have to go back and leave to -- go back to Iraq for a year or more. I'm hoping if this transition goes well, then my husband and many other husbands will not have to leave."

HEMMER: What you need is better intelligence to penetrate these insurgents.

There's an offer out there. Maybe they'll pursue some amnesty deal where if you have not committed, let's say, severe crimes against other Iraqis or coalition forces that you can come forward, give us the information and they could use it to their benefit.

O'BRIEN: But then you have this whole issue of imposing law and order. Do they go with martial law? Do they go with what you called emergency law, which again, brings you back to the very beginning because you have to have troops -- as we heard from Don Shepperd -- to enforce it.

CAFFERTY: The other unknown thing at this point is how much fear the insurgents and terrorists have struck into the hearts of the local people and whether any of them would be willing to come forward and say anything with the fear of retribution against their family. That was the old way of doing business in Iraq.

HEMMER: Safe to say, we have one question answered today, but we have a myriad of others to go.

O'BRIEN: When is the handover, I think, is the question answered.

HEMMER: Yes. We're calling -- we're calling it the next chapter. Who knows what that next chapter will hold.

O'BRIEN: Good question. Thanks, Jack.


O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, the winds of change in Iraq. A new government has taken power. So what happens next?

HEMMER: Also, on a much lighter a bit later today, it's a good thing Britney canceled her summer concert tour. So they say. We'll get to that more on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Welcome back everyone. The headline for the morning and really throughout the day is this. In a surprise move, the handover officially is over, and they did it two days earlier than expected.

Earlier today I talked with journalist Baria Alamuddin. She worked for the newspaper "Al-Hayat," based in London. I asked her about the situation in Iraq and whether or not she thinks Iraq is ready for the move that came today.


BARIA ALAMUDIIN, "AL-HAYAT": No, Iraq is not ready, but it's a welcome step. It's a very good step. But it's not only as far as security is concerned, but morally and otherwise, yes, it is ready.

I hope, and I pray that the coalition forces will stay for the time being in Iraq, train very quickly these Iraqi forces, and then get out as soon as they can so that Iraq is seen to be actually really in factual terms governing itself with its own police, with its own army.

HEMMER: Yes. That is certainly going to take some time. In the near term, what is the changing image of the U.S. now for the Iraqi people?

ALAMUDDIN: Well, it remains to be seen, of course. I know I've been speaking to an Iraqi official who told me that Mr. Bremer had just left and he said good riddance, in the sense that, although Americans are seen to be the liberators, yet, they are not seen to have played their cards well, in the last two years after liberation because they had seen -- they are seen to be occupiers more than liberators.

However, now, if they are not seen to be playing a big role, this will be very welcome by the Iraqi people and, indeed, I think, by this Iraqi interim government.

HEMMER: How does this Iraqi government make progress in the next six months?

ALAMUDDIN: Well, I -- I won't be saying something new when I say it's security, security, security. Because when you speak to the Iraqi people, the first thing they say, yes, we have seen some progress as far as schooling, maybe as far as, you know, as far as hospitals, whatever other walks of life. But we cannot do anything with this if we don't have security.

So first it has to be security, gaining the -- indeed, the confidence of the Iraqi people going forward with providing jobs for people.

You cannot imagine how bad the situation is inside Iraq as far as jobs is concerned. It is not good for the Iraqi male and female to be sitting there, guessing what to do next and not having money to feed their families. So this is again very, very important.

And, also, providing the infrastructure with the necessity -- necessary things that it has. Many, many places in Iraq still don't have electricity. The -- you know, the heat is soaring. Many places don't have good hospitals.

And also, I think it's very crucial to bring in the Iraqi people together to stop any faction -- factioning -- factors going in. For example, stop playing on being Shia, Sunni, Kurdish, Turkistan (ph), whatever it is. These people have always been one. One thing Saddam Hussein did good, if I can say anything that he did good, was not exactly playing on this with the Iraqi people. It's very important to have the unity of Iraq in tact.


HEMMER: Baria Alamuddin, a journalist working the story in London. Her perspective on what's happening today -- Soledad. O'BRIEN: Still to come on a much lighter note, your Monday morning dose of "90 Second Pop."

Ben Affleck, Jennifer Tilly, Matt Damon all doing it. Why does Hollywood have on its poker face?

And Britney Spears is starting to give J. Lo a run for her matrimonial money. That and much more ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Welcome back, everyone. Eight thirty here in New York on a busy Monday morning here on AMERICAN MORNING. Bit of a surprise, too. I think everyone can say that, for the most part.

Iraq's first steps in the future, quiet ones today. The new leadership and the coalition authority surprising everyone, transferring power two days ahead of schedule.

We're watching the breaking angles out of Iraq today. A number of angles, too, in a few moments, back to Baghdad. Anderson Cooper is working the story here. Jeff Greenfield on the political fallout in a moment here in New York, as we were talking about earlier.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. In fact, Jeff will talk about -- a little bit about what happens here politically in the aftermath of this handover. And then also, he'll take a look at the independent Ralph Nader and a potentially significant development that happened in the elections, a decision by the Green Party could trigger a very interesting chain reaction. Jeff's going to tackle all of that.


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