Early Iraq Handover Signals Serious Loss of Ground

The US-led coalition administration of Iraq came to an end at a hasty, secretive ceremony in the most heavily protected corner of Baghdad Monday, June 28, 48 hours ahead of the scheduled June 30 date. US administrator Paul Bremer handed the document to interim president Ghazi al-Yawar, who was flanked by prime minister Iyad Allawi and justice minister Dr. Malik Dohan Al-Hassan. Not a single American or Middle East television station was allowed to broadcast the epic occasion live from coalition headquarters in the Green Zone. Only after the fact was it made known in Istanbul, as forty-four world leaders assembled for their annual NATO summit. President George W. Bush and UK premier Tony Blair met Monday afternoon to decide what would happen next in Iraq.
The clandestine ceremony was followed pell-mell by two events: Bremer, ex-US administrator, flew out of Baghdad, and the sovereign prime minister in his first public statement pledged elections on schedule next January.
The surprise move prompted a rush of explanations by various informed sources who presented it as:
1. An attempt to pre-empt the spectacular Iraqi guerrilla-al Qaeda terrorist strikes that intelligence experts judged were scheduled for June 30. It was hoped that the secretly-planned fait accompli of the transition would catch the enemy off-balance.
2. A demonstration to the assembled NATO leaders that Washington and London, in asking for alliance assistance for the Iraqi army, seriously meant what they said about handing power over to an indigenous regime in Baghdad. The formal act was supposed to finally win round any waverers.
However, debkafile political and military analysts believe these arguments which may sit well in the diplomatic arena are unlikely to stand the test of reality inside Iraq, where the precipitate handover looks less like a coolly reasoned move and more like a counsel of desperation, or even the loss of control by coalition leaders.
Military and intelligence experts question the value of the powers handed over to the interim Iraqi government and its ability to establish stability and security when 80 percent of the new 260,000-strong Iraqi army are untrained or disloyal – many have been caught collaborating with Iraqi insurgents fighting US and coalition forces. In these circumstances, even if NATO leaders vote to aid the sovereign Iraq armed forces, their decision is unlikely to come to fruition for two main reasons: First,The European powers insist on training the troops outside Iraq. According to intelligence estimates, once tens of thousands of Iraqi security personnel reach Europe, most will go AWOL from their training facilities and claim the status of political refugees. The mass exodus will leave the newly empowered government in Baghdad worse off than before and even more dependent on American forces. Europe, for its part, will be landed with a new refugee problem. Second,Attempts to train Iraqi forces in Jordan last year have proved unsuccessful. As soon as they crossed the border, they were penetrated by undercover agents sent in by Iraqi guerrilla forces and returned home implanted with subversive cells.
President Bush has little hope therefore of leaving Istanbul with a NATO pledge of substantial assistance to the sovereign Iraqi army in his pocket, an asset he had hoped to gain for his re-election campaign. Neither can the interim government in Baghdad count on much succor from NATO.
Iraq’s interim foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, in Istanbul for the NATO summit, explained the move in a nutshell. He said power was transferred ahead of time in view of “the deteriorating security situation.” In other words, the Americans and British passed a hot potato to Baghdad before the brew heated up still further.
Yet, despite all the evidence to the contrary, Western diplomats in Istanbul were still insisting that the change of date must have shocked and dismayed the insurgents into abandoning their planned terror spectaculars on or around the transition. According to our sources in Baghdad, their motivation for fighting the Americans and toppling the interim government remain as high as ever. After the capture of Saddam Hussein last December, it was also hoped that that the level of violence would decline; instead it has climbed, spread and become more sophisticated.
In the view of debkafile‘s counter-terror experts, Iraqi guerrillas have in the last six months improved their tactical flexibility and ability to adapt to changing conditions, so that logistically they are capable of rescheduling their major terrorist drama to fit the new circumstances. The date is less important than the fact that the insurgents and al Qaeda retain the initiative for striking whenever they choose, regardless of the step taken by decision-makers in Istanbul.
An important point to be considered now is this: in what light does the change of the sovereignty handover date present the US president in the Middle East and key nations like Pakistan and Afghanistan where the global war on terror is being fought? And what signals does it send to the Islamic terrorists? According to our sources around the region, it is seen as a loss of ground for US military and political positions in Iraq and the war on terror. America’s enemies will be encouraged to redouble their pressure on US troops and their coalition partners in the hope of putting them to flight.
For the present, the ball is very much in the hands of the insurgent and Islamic groups holding five hostages under threat of death, including for the first time a US marine, Wassaf Ali Hassoun, one Pakistani driver and three Turkish civilians. US ex-administrator Bremer left the hornets’ nest of sovereign Iraq behind him when he made haste to depart Baghdad on Monday.

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