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2004-06-28

U.S. Transfers "Sovereignty" to Iraq Two Days Early

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In a surprise move the U.S. held a brief 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.

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.

We go to Baghdad to speak with correspondents Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent and Christian Parenti of The Nation, electroniciraq.net founder Ali Abunimah joins us from Jordan and independent reporter Rahul Mahajan.[includes transcript]

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.

Bremer left the country on a US Air Force C-130 at about 12:30 p.m. Baghdad time shortly after the ceremony ended

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 is 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.

  • Patrick Cockburn, journalist with the London Independent.
  • Rahul Mahajan, author of Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond (Seven Stories). He has a Ph.D. in particle physics. He writes a blog at empirenotes.org.
  • Ali Abunimah, founder of the website electroniciraq.net, as well as electronicintifada.net. He is currently in Amman, Jordan where he has been monitoring today’s developments in neighboring Iraq.
  • Christian Parenti, contributing writer to the Nation Magazine and author of the forthcoming book The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting live from Kansas City, and we are going to Iraq as well as to Jordan, on the latest in the surprise move of the U.S. holding a secret ceremony in Baghdad early this morning to mark the so-called handover of power to the new unelected government of Iraq. The handover was scheduled to take place Wednesday, June 30, but the U.S. is moving up the date. Here is what the Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the unelected Prime Minister of Iraq, had to say in Baghdad earlier today.

PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: We salute the forces and people that stood by us like Jordan, Syria, Turkey and others. As our people were living under the tyranny of Saddam, also I have to salute the coalition countries, especially the United States, Great Britain, Italy, Sweden, Japan, South Korea and all of the other coalition countries that helped us liberate Iraq from Saddam and his gang, and we extend the hand of peace to all of them. We are a free people and Iraq has had a setback, but this is a temporary setback and we will rise up after that. We’re like mountains standing up very firm, and we will protect all the people regardless of their religion, color or any other consideration so that every Iraqi will have the right to unified Iraq where brotherhood and justice prevail.

AMY GOODMAN: Iyad Allawi speaking in Baghdad just a little while ago today. We turn now to Patrick Cockburn, a reporter for The Independent newspaper in Baghdad. Welcome to Democracy Now! Patrick.

PATRICK COCKBURN: Hello.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this surprise move, this ceremony that has taken place two days before the expected so-called handover of power, and what Iyad Allawi had to say?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well it caught us by surprise I guess, but, obviously, they thought that it was held on Wednesday, the handover of power took place Wednesday then there would be car bombs in Baghdad and no one would pay much attention to what was happening, so they had to do it early. I’ve been walking around Baghdad this morning and there is apprehension here. There’s very little traffic on the streets. Normally it’s very crowded and you have enormous traffic jams. Quite a lot of people have gone to Jordan or Syria. This was to avoid the bombings. So there is a sense that something bad is going to happen here, and in the past when people have believed that, it usually has happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what exactly happened as you understand it? How did you learn? How did others in Baghdad learn what was taking place at, what was it, 2:26 Baghdad time in the morning, and then tell us who Iyad Allawi is, the new unelected prime minister of Iraq?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, I think the first news came out of Istanbul from the Iraqi foreign minister. Iyad Allawi, he was in the opposition a long time and he is rather a peculiar political personality. He comes from a Shiite family here. He’s reasonably well off. He was a Ba’ath party militant in the 1960’s. Accounts differ on exactly what he did. Some say he was involved at that time. But he was then sent to England where he became head of the Iraqi student union in Europe. Now, it’s widely believed that at that point, he was working for the Muha Barrat Iraqi Intelligence, but he broke with Saddam in the 1970’s. He then was attacked when he was asleep in bed in London, and was quite badly wounded. He went into business; he sort of became prominent again during and after the gulf war. Now, his movement, the Iraqi national corps is notorious for being funded by mi-6, British intelligence and subsequently the C.I.A., and Allawi defend himself by saying, yeah, I took money not only from them, but thirteen other intelligence agencies. In the 1990’s, he backed a coup against Saddam Hussein which went disastrously wrong; a lot of people were killed. He didn’t really play much role in the war last year. He was not very prominent then. He seemed almost out of politics. He wasn’t in Iraq much, but this was an advantage for him. He didn’t make too many friends, but he didn’t make any enemies, either. When it came to them selecting a new Prime Minister, as somebody was doing the choosing told me, that Allawi’s name emerged because he was the person who has the least enemies. The Kurds, the Shiites, the Sunni Muslims, none of them really disapproved of him in the way that they disapproved of other candidates.

AMY GOODMAN: You write in your latest piece, Patrick Cockburn, in "The Independent," you refer to Iyad Allawi as a C.I.A. stooge.

PATRICK COCKBURN: Sorry, I didn’t catch that.

AMY GOODMAN: You refer to Iyad Allawi as a C.I.A. stooge.

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, I think I mentioned that the Iraqis see him like that, and others are hopeful that whatever he was paid for in the past, that he can — that some form of Iraqi government will develop now and that however bad it is, it won’t be as bad as the occupation. Now, they may be disappointed, but Allawi does have some advantages in that the occupation really is very, very unpopular here now. It’s quite astonishing how few Iraqis have a good word to say for Paul Bremer or coalition provisional authority. So, perhaps this will work in Allawi’s favor. But at the same time, he’s very reliant on American troops. There are more police in the streets today, but at the end of the day, he’s relying on the 138,000 troops. So, he’s going to have — he has to walk a very fine line between saying he’s going to end the occupation — going to end the violence and end the occupation, but at the same time, he’s very dependent on the occupation or occupying troops for the influence that he has in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break. We’re going to come back to this discussion. We’re speaking with Patrick Cockburn of The Independent. He is in Baghdad right now with the surprise so-called handover of power two days early. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. I’m Amy Goodman. We are broadcasting live from Kansas City where we’re working with community radio station KKFI. We are talking about the secret handover of power that took place two days early. I should say the secret ceremony; the handover is now public, if you can call it that. Small ceremony took place in Baghdad about 2:26 Baghdad time in the morning. Paul Bremer has now — has now left Iraq. We are looking at a piece in the "Washington Post" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Walter Pinkus. It says, "U.S. Administrator, L. Paul Bremer has issued a raft of edicts about Iraq’s code and has appointed to two dozen Iraqis with government jobs to multiyear terms in be an attempt to promote his government long after the planned handover of political authority Wednesday. Some of the orders signed by Bremer, which will remain in effect unless overturned by Iraq’s interim government, restrict the power of the interim government and impose U.S. crafted rules for the country’s democratic transition. Among the most controversial orders is the enactment of an elections law that gives a seven-member commission the power to disqualify political parties and any of the candidates they support. We are joined on the line right now by Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad. Also we have Rahul Mahajan, the author of "Full Spectrum Dominance. U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond." He writes a blog called "empirenotes.org." The handover took place at 2:26 eastern standard time. It took place at 10:26 in the morning Baghdad time. Patrick Cockburn, can you talk about these edicts. What Paul Bremer has left as John Negroponte, the new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq moves in.

PATRICK COCKBURN: Bremer’s months in power here was uniformly disastrous. It’s still a mystery, I think too many people here, Iraqis and even officials on the coalition provisional authority that Bremer headed, as to how he managed to make so many disastrous decisions. Saddam should not have been a hard act to follow. But dissolving the army, the security forces, last year the attempt to really monopolize all power within the C.P.A., the coalition provisional authority, and this year to pick a fight in Fallujah with the people there. The fight with Muqtada al Sadr, the Shiite Muslim cleric. Really, this led to the vast majority of Iraqis deciding they wanted the occupation to end. The month by month you talked to Iraqis, the bitterness against the occupation and against Bremer personally has been growing. Really, Bremer’s record is very much — Iraqis regard it very negatively.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Rahul Mahajan into this conversation, author of "Full Spectrum Dominance." your response to this surprise ceremony taking place two days early and what this all means, including these edicts, extremely significant. Paul Bremer has ordered that the national security advisor and the national intelligence chief chosen by the interim prime minister he selected, Iyad Allawi be given five year terms which will impose Allawi’s choices on the elected government that is to take over next year. He’s also appointed Iraqis, this is Paul Bremer, hand-picked by his aides to many of the influential positions in the interim government installed inspectors general for five year terms in every ministry, has formed and filled commissions to regulate communications, public broadcasting, securities markets. Can comment on all of this?

RAHUL MAHAJAN: Yes. Well, in terms of the early transfer, it is obviously a prudent measure, and there is nothing to complain about it, it’s just that it’s symbolic of the tremendous failure of the occupation. This man has spent 14 months as the American pro-consul of Iraq. Has totally and completely refashioned the country in his own image and now has to depart in ignominious shame with his tail between his legs secretly because of the total collapse of any shred of legitimacy of his government or his policies. I think the move up of the transfer is very symbolic in that way. Of course, the transfer is not a real transfer, as you have pointed out. Bremer took whole series of last minute decisions that make it very clear that in fact he doesn’t trust even this puppet government they’re putting in to be tightly enough controlled by the United States, in particular the creation of an election commission that will — that has the power to dismiss other political parties. He promulgated an edict that no party associated with what he called an illegal militia can run anybody for office. This is very clearly directed at Muqtada al Sadr. It’s basically a card to keep close to the vest to be ready to play if Muqtada al Sadr doesn’t show that he’s willing to essentially go along with the United States. It looks like the United States is changing things, but not very much. They tried a model in which they were going to re-invent 19th century colonialism. That’s what the 14 months of the coalition provisional authority was. Now it looks like they’re trying to re-invent the 1960’s style Latin American corrupt military dictatorship propped up by the United States and in particular one of the areas of corruption is in the use of oil revenues. In fact, the British charity Christian Aid just said that at least $2 billion of Iraq’s oil revenues from the last year are unaccounted for by the C.P.A. Accounting.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking to Rahul Mahajan about the early handover. We are joined on the line by Ali Abunimah from Jordan. Your response to this Ali?

ALI ABUNIMAH: The news comes on a day when the attention in Jordan is facing towards the west to events in Palestine, the massive upsurge in Israeli violence in the past couple of days. The news came as somewhat of a surprise, but I think that as the previous commentators said the handover may be trumpeted in the United States as a big deal, but not many people that I have talked to in Amman are particularly impressed by it. What has surprised me is the vehemence of feeling about Iyad Allawi. How could anyone who was openly working with the C.I.A. and British intelligence since the 1970’s ever be a legitimate leader for Iraq. I think that’s very, very little support, at least here in Jordan amongst the public, at least people I have talked to, for the handover, and not many people see it really as a step towards restoring Iraq to sovereignty and independence. Of course, support from Iraq’s neighbors is crucial, but at least as far as the public is concerned here in Jordan, that support is not particularly forthcoming right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Hmm. Ali Abunimah, what about these edicts that Paul Bremer has issued just before leaving the country, putting in place people like a national security adviser, intelligence chief that were chosen by his hand-picked prime minister, who will remain beyond any kind of election, saying that they will serve five year terms.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, people are — I mean, you know, people are aware of these kinds of details in a way, because they are being widely covered, and I have seen detailed coverage of this issue on some of the satellite channels, but I think people are really looking at the big picture. They just don’t believe that this handover represents any real change. So, I don’t think that people — even need to see the edicts or any of that in order to have the skepticism bolstered. The general view is that Iraq remains a country under occupation. I saw a report in the "Washington Post" this morning which talks about U.S. soldiers preparing to leave as the occupation ends. I mean, that is as far as I know fiction. The U.S. announced plans to increase or may increase by 25,000 of number of troops. There are 106,000 there now. No one is talking about reducing the number of troops in Iraq, so people here see Iraq as being an occupation. They see the handover as being purely cosmetic. They see the Iraqi government as being what people use the term here, a lot of people that I have talked to, used term collaborators. That’s the terminology that people are using. So, they — you know, they don’t — in a way, these edicts don’t add very much to people’s perception, although I think it’s very important that these things be known, because it shows the extent to which the United States is trying to shape and influence what happens in Iraq for many years, if not decades to come.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ali Abunimah in Amman Jordan, the founder of electronicintifada.net. Patrick Cockburn, if you are still on the line with us, in terms of the latest move of the secret ceremony earlier today, the reports of the bombing of Fallujah once again, killing up to 25 people in an attempt to kill supporters of Abu Musab al Zarqawi. What is the latest on that?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, the bombing of Fallujah now has become so regular, and at the same time everything being attributed to Zarqawi as the one figure who seems to be behind the uprisings in the cities around Baghdad. Overall, I don’t think what’s striking is that 14 months after the invasion that the U.S. is still using aircraft to hit buildings in a not very big city like Fallujah, which is only 30 miles from Baghdad. It shows, one, the lack of intelligence, but also just the fact that don’t hold sway, part of Iraq aren’t controlled by the occupation. It’s still very anarchic here. It’s an extraordinary tribute, or lack of tribute, to Bremer that he’s leaving at a moment when so much of Iraq just isn’t under U.S. Control.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the telephone by Christian Parenti, independent reporter. Christian was fired at by U.S. Troops in Bakuba. You can talk about the resistance right now, Christian?

AMY GOODMAN: I had hoped that Christian was with us. But Rahul Mahajan, let me put that question you to.

RAHUL MAHAJAN: Well, I think that what has happened with the resistance in the last few days is really a dramatic, important and positive development. Last week, as you know, there was a single day of violence which over 100 people were killed. Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s jihad claimed responsibility for it. There’s been talk — there’s been a lot of grumbling from almost anyone about all of these attacks that seemed to kill these huge numbers of Iraqis and are not even necessarily targeted at U.S. forces. But on Saturday, across the country, anti-occupation figures, militant, Sunni clerics, Muqtada al Sadr’s organization, even a representative of mujahadin in Fallujah all made open, public statements denouncing his acts and distinguishing between terrorism committed by foreigners much of which is directed at Iraqis and what they call legitimate resistance. It marks the emergence of the resistance as a political force rather than one that can carry out stray hit and run attacks at the United States or perhaps engage in defensive actions like during the siege on Fallujah. If the resistance is going to build political weight and have a chance of challenging this attempt at U.S. hegemony this is the path it’s going to have to travel down.

AMY GOODMAN: At the same time that this is it happening, a U.S. soldier died in Baghdad in a rocket attack, just as the ceremony was taking place, and three Turkish men, one U.S., and one Pakistani man have been taken hostage by separate resistance groups who threatened to behead the men if demands are not met. The U.S. Soldier being identified as Wassef Ali Hassoun, who is a marine corporal of Lebanese decent, I believe, from Utah. Can you talk about these hostages, and the beheadings that we have seen over the weeks, the men always being put into orange jumpsuits like the prisoners held by the United States.

RAHUL MAHAJAN: Well, these particular ones are uniquely bizarre because, of course, Turkey and Pakistan, neither one of them has troops in Iraq. Their involvement in the occupation is minimal, although, of course, among the civilian contractors augmenting the occupation forces, you find people from virtually every country, mercenaries for hire from all over the world. These acts, these kidnappings and threatened beheads seem once again to be the work of groups like Zarqawi, which is almost unique in Iraq in that it declares anyone that it doesn’t like and any Iraqi in the occupation working in the capacity, including washing laundry for the coalition forces as not a Muslim as be a apostate. Since the Turks and Pakistanis and U.S. Marine are all Muslim, it seems once again to be something that has little to do with the indigenous Iraqi resistance which is still very much focused on the U.S. Military. Further speculations about what actually Zarqawi is and what kind of role he’s playing is very much in a functional sense, he is propping up ideologically the U.S. Occupation by trying to identify legitimate resistance with his kinds of acts, which really virtually in Iraq nobody will support.

AMY GOODMAN: We do have Christian Parenti on the line right now from Baghdad. Christian, as I said, was shot at by U.S. Troops when he was in Bakuba last week. Christian, can you tell us where you are, your reaction to the early so-called handover, and the situation of the resistance now in Iraq, As you have been traveling the country?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, I’m in Baghdad now, and the — my reaction to the handover is pretty much the same one that most people on the street in Iraq have, which is that it’s a handover of documents done in a bunker, and it has really no meaning materially, because there’s still U.S. troops on the street, reconstruction is still not happening, despite billions having been spent. Services are down. The humiliation involving the occupation is continuing. No one here is particularly excited either way about this. A lot of Iraqis have sort of fallen into a hopeful fatalism. They don’t expect anything, but they kind of hope against hope — what they — what they really know is going to happen that maybe this government will somehow get the U.S. out. In terms of the resistance, today has been very quiet. Yesterday there was some mortaring of the C.P.A., the green zone. Fallujah is the main flashpoint. Bakuba, the day that Dahr [Jamail] and I were there was a war zone, but now it is mellowed out. It’s sealed off. The resistance has done a couple of operations, a couple of hits on some buildings, but it’s not open warfare there or any other place other than Fallujah. One of the key things that has gone on in the transfer is that Muqtada al Sadr has declared a cease-fire. The Mehti army, the main element of the Shia militias that was fighting the U.S. in April is keeping its powder dry and is in a large part responsible for the peace on the streets. Who knows who will happen in the next couple of days? There will probably be some assassination attempts against members of the new government and car bombs. Right now, Baghdad is very peaceful, and people don’t really think very much of this event. It’s a non-event, really.

AMY GOODMAN: Christian Parenti, with us from Baghdad, independent reporter. Also speaking to Patrick Cockburn, with The Independent newspaper in Britain. Rahul Mahajan with us as well, author of "Full Spectrum Dominance" and of the blog www.empirenotes.org.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Kansas City, working with KKFI Community Radio in Kansas City, Missouri, a battleground state. We’re on the line with Baghdad, Christian Parenti, on the line with Rahul Mahajan, author of "Full Spectrum Dominance," on this day where a surprise, secret ceremony took place two days earlier than the June 30 deadline for the so-called handover of power in Iraq. Christian Parenti, you have just been saying that there is not much belief that this really is a handover. You yourself were shot at by US forces when you were in Bakuba. Place Bakuba for us and talk about what happened.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Bakuba is 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. There had been fighting south of Bakuba for several days, and so another journalist who is familiar to listeners of this show, Dahr Jamail, and I went out there because we heard civilian casualties were coming into the hospital. We found the city to be sealed by US forces, and we went in through a back way, and when proceeding in through a back way, we saw US military vehicles, and we could see that they saw us. And then one of them shot at us, three times. We — our choice was basically to just rush deep in, and we found the city deserted, and at war. There was — there were Apache helicopters strafing the southern side of the city. No one was on the street. No shops were open. There were just a few cars around. It seemed like mujahedin patrols undercover, looking for what was going on. And we interviewed a few people. We met a sheikh we were there to find, and stayed with him and heard the bombing, and then there was a lull in the fighting. We decided that we would not make it to the hospital since that was closer to where things were being strafed, and it was in mujahedin positions. We proceeded out of Bakuba. On the way out, we saw a carload of civilians who had been shot up with one corpse lying on the street. At that point, we stopped our vehicle because we didn’t want to — we also saw humvees further on that had shot up this vehicle. So, we had to walk out towards the humvees to — you know, yelling we were American soldiers not to shoot. And then we got there, the US soldiers said indeed this car was speeding towards them and they actually claimed it had rammed a tank, but it clearly had not rammed a tank because there was no sign of impact. It was probably just speeding in their direction and might not have seen them. The driver might have been scared, and they, as they say, they lit it up, with .50 caliber machine gun bullets and killed everyone inside. So, we got out of Bakuba and then I made contact with the sheikh we had visited. He said he was kept in his house for the next two days by sporadic fighting, but that yesterday people were able to go out in Bakuba and that the siege had lifted. The whole thing jumped off really with the mujahedin attacking the US, going on the offensive. That day we expected this was sort of maybe the beginning of a wave of insurgent activity, but it seems to have tapered off for the moment, but anything could change. No one really knows what direction things will go here.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Christian Parenti in Baghdad.

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