In a surprise move the U.S. held a secret ceremony in Baghdad earlier today to mark the so-called handover of power to the new unelected government of Iraq. The handover was scheduled to take place on Wednesday June 30 but the US moved up the date with hopes that it would pre-empt further attacks by members of the Iraq resistance to coincide with the handover. The ceremony was attended by a handful of Iraqi and coalition officials including the head of the Coalition Provision Authority Paul Bremer and Iyad Allawi who was selected to be Iraq’s prime minister. Allawi is a former Baathist who has ties to the CIA and Saudi intelligence. Iraq’s newly selected president Ghazi Yawer was also present. Over the past week, scores of Iraqis have died in attacks that were apparently staged to disrupt the handover of power. President Bush was in Turkey at the NATO summit while Bremer presided over the ceremony. Bremet left the country on a US Air Force C-130 at about 12:30 p.m. Baghdad time shortly after the ceremony ended
Technically the handover of power ends the 14-month occupation of Iraq, but many questions remain as to how much power the US has actually handed over. The U.S. will keep 130,000 troops on the ground. US Ambassador John Negroponte will head up the largest embassy in the world. The new government will be barred from amending the interim constitution that was drawn up by the US and the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.
The US has put in place numerous laws to protect US forces and contractors. On Saturday Bremer signed an edict that gave US soldiers and military contractors immunity from Iraqi laws even after the handover of power. The Washington Post reports Bremer has also issued a series of other edicts that could affect how Iraq will be governed for years. He has appointed at least two dozen Iraqis to government jobs with five-year terms including Iraq’s new national security advisor and national intelligence chief. This means the US will have high-placed allies in government regardless of who wins the upcoming Iraqi elections. Bremer has also formed a seven-member election commission that will have the power to disqualify political parties and candidates. Meanwhile it has been widely reported Allawi is considering imposing martial law or issuing special emergency laws.
Allawi said during the ceremony, "The security situation of our country now lies in our hands. We are going to announce the new measures today and tomorrow." Over the weekend Allawi also announced the U.S. would soon handover Saddam Hussein to the new Iraqi government.
The transfer of power came after a weekend that saw dozens of Iraqis die as members of the resistance launched attacks across the country. In Hilla a double car bombing killed up to 40 people. In Baquba, gunmen attacked the offices of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s party, the Iraq National Accord. the offices of one of the country’s biggest Shiite parties, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq also came under attack. At a checkpoint north of Baghdad six Iraqi National Guard soldiers were killed by anti-tank rockets. Two Iraqi children died in a mortar attack near the Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad. A U.S. soldier died in Baghdad in a rocket attack on the coalition’s base. Meanwhile U.S. forces bombed Fallujah again killing up to 25 in an attempt to kill supporters of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.
Meanwhile three Turkish men, one U.S. soldier and one Pakistani man have been taken hostage by separate resistance groups who have threatened to behead the men if demands are not met. The U.S. soldier has been identfied as Wassef Ali Hassoun a marine corporal of Lebanese descent. The Pakistani man worked for Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root.
In Israel, Hamas has carried out today what is being reported as its first ever fatal rocket attack on Israeli soil. The attack killed two Israelis in the southern town of Sderot including a three-year-old boy on his way to nursery school. Numerous attacks were staged by both Israel and Palestinian groups over the weekend. In Nablus, 30,000 Palestinians took to the streets Sunday for the funeral of seven Palestinian militants who had been killed by Israeli forces. The dead included Nayef Abu Sharekh, the head of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in the West Bank and two other senior commanders. Meanwhile in Gaza, six Israeli soldiers were wounded after members of Hamas set off a bomb underneath an army post in the southern Gaza Strip. Soon after Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians including a 13-year-old boy in the town of Khan Yunis.A nd in the Gaza town of Rafah, a delegation from the British charity Christian Aid reported they were shot at by Israeli forces last week as they visited the town on a fact-finding mission.
UN chief nuclear weapons expert Mohamad ElBaradei called on Israel to eliminate its nuclear weapons. According to the BBC, he said that everyone knew Israel has nuclear capability although they refuse to admit it. ElBaradei is scheduled to visit Israel next month to discuss making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone.
Tens of thousands of people protested President Bush in Turkey yesterday during a NATO summit. The overwhelming majority of the Turkish public opposed the war on Iraq The Turkish government dramatically increased security for Bush’s visit–F-16 warplanes patrolled and a no-fly zone was enforced above Istanbul. Hours before Bush’s arrival on Saturday, Turkish police fired tear gas at stone-throwing demonstrators in downtown Ankara.
Meanwhile in Ireland up to 10,000 anti-Bush protesters greeted Bush who stopped in the country to hold a press conference with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and European Union president Romano Prodi. Protesters delayed the start of the press conference for half-an-hour chanting anti-Bush and anti-war slogans.
In Haiti, ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune has been arrested. The new U.S.-backed government charges Neptune is connected with several killings that occurred around the time of the coup that ousted Aristide. Neptune recently took to the Haitian airwaves and called on Aristide supporters to prepare for a future struggle.
The city of New York has announced it will close off at least two dozen city blocks when the Republican National Convention is in session and that protesters will be restricted to a small area away outside one corner of Madison Square Garden. The head of the New York Civil Liberties Union Donna Lieberman responded to the city’s attempt to limit where protests could be held by saying "The Mayor’s does not get to re-write the First Amendment just because the RNC is coming to town." Meanwhile the city has yet to grant any permits to protest groups.
In Milwaukee, delegates at the Green Party political convention choose California lawyer David Cobb to be the party’s nominee over independent candidate Ralph Nader who was the Green nominee in 2000 and 1996. If Nader had won the nomination he would have gained access to ballots in 22 states.
In news from Hollywood, Michael Moore’s new film Fahrenheit 9/11 took in an estimated $22 million at the box office becoming the most popular film in the country this week and one of the most successful documentaries in film history.