World welcomes Iraqi handover, some wonder what difference it will make

Members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps stop cars at a checkpoint leaving Hillah, south of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 28, 2004. (AP Photo/Mohammed Uraibi)

Members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps stop cars at a checkpoint leaving Hillah, south of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 28, 2004. (AP Photo/Mohammed Uraibi)

LONDON (AP) - Governments around the world welcomed Monday's surprise early handover of power in Iraq, but few expected it would quickly halt spiraling violence.

Both supporters and opponents of the U.S.-led war hailed the transfer of sovereignty as good news and said they wished the new interim Iraqi administration well in facing the major challenges ahead.

But in the Muslim world, many expressed skepticism about the handover.

"Occupation will wear a new dress," Syrian political analyst Haitham Kilani said.

Poland's deputy defense minister, Janusz Zemke, told The Associated Press, "This is very good. Everything that accelerates the process of transfer of power to the Iraqis, that speeds up their taking of responsibility, is very good."

Poland was a strong supporter of the war, commanding a multinational stabilization force in the south-central part of Iraq.

French President Jacques Chirac - an ardent opponent of the invasion and outspoken critic of America's handling of postwar Iraq - learned Monday morning that the transfer had been moved up two days from Wednesday, spokeswoman Catherine Colonna said.

"The transfer of sovereignty is a highly awaited and important event," Colonna said. "It's a step in the political process that continues up to 2005. Others must follow, and France expresses its wish for success to the interim government and the Iraqi people."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, another opponent of the war, offered his country's "trusting collaboration" as Iraq prepares for democratic elections and strives to improve security.

"We have always made clear that we are interested in an early transition of sovereignty," Schroeder said at a NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey. "Now that it has happened earlier, I can only welcome it."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a close U.S. ally who contributed troops to the coalition, congratulated Iraq's people "for the act of faith in a democratic future that is involved in this historic handover. They will need our help and our support for some time into the future."

Australia's 850 soldiers will stay unless the new government asks them to leave, Howard said, calling such a request unlikely.

Russia, another opponent of the war, said it was ready to work with the new government to help it win the support of the Iraqi people.

"No doubt, the success of the new interim Iraqi government on this path will depend primarily on the extent to which it can win the trust of the people of Iraq through its actions and let them feel that the occupation is really coming to an end and that the country is gaining independence," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told the Apcom news agency from the NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey, that his country "feels even more the moral duty to support the brave Iraqi government in its efforts for democracy, security and for the social and economic reconstruction."

Japan, Denmark and the Philippines, which all strongly backed Washington on Iraq, also voiced their support.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in Turkey that the early handover was "good news." He said the EU would help Iraq economically, "in particular with advice on administration, helping put in place ministries."

The EU said it was considering posting a special representative in Baghdad and would offer support to elections scheduled there early next year.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, said it was pleased by the handover but would wait to see how meaningful it was.

Restoration of sovereignty "has been the overriding concern of Indonesia from the very first day the occupation began," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa. "We need to observe how things materialize on the ground."

Others were more skeptical.

Senior Syrian Information Ministry official Ahmad Haj Ali told Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera that the Iraqi government should send away coalition forces and avoid U.S. influence.

"There will be great security problems as a result of the U.S. presence, and problems created by the Americans themselves," he said. "The government can make it if it adheres to its programs and ends the presence of the U.S. and other troops."

In Baghdad, the streets were almost empty and there were no exuberant scenes of jubilation like those that greeted the fall of Saddam Hussein's statue in April 2003 as U.S. troops swept into the capital.

"Iraqis are happy inside, but their happiness is marred by fear and melancholy," artist Qassim al-Sabti said. "Of course I feel I'm still occupied. You can't find anywhere in the world people who would accept occupation. America these days, is like death. Nobody can escape from it."

Still, many Iraqis greeted the return of sovereignty as a hopeful sign that things will eventually get better.

"Thanks be to God. We are happy. It's a step in the right direction," Ali Hussein Ali, a retired teacher, said as he fingered blue prayer beads and played dominoes with fellow retirees at a cafe in the Shiite neighborhood Tobchi.

In Jordan's Iraqi community, many doubted the Iraqi people would see much benefit.

Adnan Hamad, a retired Iraqi government employee in Jordan, dismissed the transfer as "American propaganda."

"The new government will abide by the orders of the occupation," said Hamad, 75. "There could never be sovereignty or independence in Iraq while there's one occupation soldier in my country."

But Jordan's King Abdullah II said in a message to the interim Iraqi leadership that the transfer of power was a "landmark in the history of Iraq." He said Jordan would help Iraq "regain its position as an independent and democratic nation enjoying freedom and prosperity."

Kuwait's prime minister, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, sent a message of congratulations to the interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer, the official Kuwait News Agency reported. Sheik Sabah said he hoped the move would "lay the foundations of security and stability."


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