Facebook Twitter

Meaning of the transfer is elusive

World leaders are reserving judgment so far

SHARE Meaning of the transfer is elusive

LONDON — The handover of sovereignty in Iraq is a milestone on a bloody road, but much of the world reserved judgment Monday on its significance.

French President Jacques Chirac, still the focal point of European frustration over the Iraq war, expressed delight at the power transfer but warned that it may prove "alas, not sufficient."

Is sovereignty real if security remains the responsibility of foreign troops? Will Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's government win hearts, minds and security control? Does the handover ease the Muslim world's bitterness against the West?

The answers depend in part on the insurgents — and the outcome could affect not only Iraq but also the U.S. presidential election, the trans-Atlantic alliance, world oil markets and prospects for democracy in the Middle East.

The new government, created by the United States, lacking a democratic mandate and commanding a still-to-be-trained security force, officially takes the lead in battling an insurrection that has defied the most powerful military force on earth.

The secretive nature of Monday's ceremony in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad and the lack of any jubilant streets scenes spoke volumes about the difficult tasks ahead.

Many in the region were skeptical about whether the transfer of power declaration had genuine meaning.

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

Persuading Iraqis that this is not the case is crucial to the new government.

"I personally think that once the Iraqis feel that they are their own masters, and they have a government that has power, then this will make the restoration of stability easier," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said.

The hope is that if the new government wins the support of its people, this will in turn chasten the militants — some local, others radicals who streamed in through Iraq's porous borders — to end the insurrection.

In the short term, the change of command seemed to bring the United States closer into line with France and Germany, the most determined foes of the decision to go to war.

Given that few if any countries stand to gain from continued instability in Iraq, even skeptics wished Allawi's government well.

"One must not forget that Iraq is geographically closer to Europe, and that an unstable Iraq is in fact more threatening to Europe than to the U.S.," said Frank Umbach, a security expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

Still, Chirac and German President Gerhard Schroeder warned that a NATO agreement to train Iraq's armed forces in no way meant sending their troops to Iraq.

"France won't train gendarmes or police or soldiers on Iraqi territory — that's clear," Chirac said at a NATO summit in Turkey. "The return of Iraq's sovereignty is a necessary condition although, alas, not sufficient, for restoring peace," he said.

"There will be no military engagement of our own, no German soldiers in Iraq," Schroeder said.

President Bush had hoped for a more dramatic commitment of NATO troops to help police Iraq, but nevertheless stands to benefit from the transition, said Jonathan Eyal, director of studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

"In political terms, it does project an image of a calm U.S. administration and of a president who just happens to be in Europe telling the Europeans: 'See, this is what you wanted me to do and it was done,' " Eyal said.

Charles Tripp of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said the new government may succeed with security because it has a better understanding of the country.

"My impression is that the Americans are flying blind in Iraq, and their local intelligence is hopeless," Tripp said in an interview.

The new government also raised the hope that political issues will replace simplistic pro- or anti-Americanism in the country, he said.

The insurgents "have no positive program, the only thing they have is to throw out the Americans," said Jan Hallenberg, a political scientist at the Swedish Defense College, "Because of that, there is maybe a possibility to break the process," though not in the short term.

For one Baghdad resident, the tests for the new government are clear.

"When we regain our security, safety and jobs, we will celebrate then," said Ahmed Karim, 31, as he stood opposite the Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad. "When I can go out for dinner with my friends after 9 p.m., we will celebrate."