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INSIGHT

Sovereignty in Iraq

Aired June 28, 2004 - 23:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JONATHAN MANN, CNN HOST: Suddenly, secretly sovereign. The United States transfers power to the new government of Iraq unexpectedly early. Paul Bremer has left the building.
Hello and welcome.

Wednesday was to be the day that Iraq regained its sovereignty, but Monday morning American Administrator Paul Bremer gave his staff just two hours warning, signed some papers and left. Iraqis took power before their own people or the insurgents knew what happened. It's a measure of how things are going that the new interim government was in place and ready, but also that it was thought safest that Iraq's new democracy be ushered in without telling its people.

On our program today, the unannounced independence of Iraq.

We begin with chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Security and secrecy made this a big surprise. Partly to keep the terrorists offguard, the United States handed back sovereignty to Iraq two days earlier than planned.

At precisely 10:26 this morning, Baghdad time, Paul Bremer became the ex-U.S. administrator.

PAUL BREMER, FMR. U.S. ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: We welcome Iraq's steps to take its rightful place of equality and honor among the free nations of the world. Sincerely, L. Paul Bremer, ex-administrator for the Coalition Provisional Authority.

AMANPOUR: Then Bremer presented the blue-bond document, the legal transfer of sovereignty, to Iraq's new interim government.

Iraqi officials attending with the Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and his deputy, the president Ghazi Yawar and the Supreme Court Justice Mahmed al- Mahmudi (ph). For a momentous occasion, it was understated, taking place in a small room in the prime minister's new office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a historical day. We've had transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people.

AMANPOUR: Bremer had signed the order in his own office earlier in the morning. As he said farewell to his staff on the way to the handover ceremony, he also carried a letter to Prime Minister Allawi from President George Bush formerly requesting that diplomatic ties be restored between Iraq and the United States. They were broken in January 1991, just before the first Gulf War.

Bremer went from the ceremony to a helicopter which took him out of occupation headquarters, the Green Zone, that had been his office and home for the past 14 months. He then boarded a plane out of Iraq and out of this job.

As Bremer was in the air, the rest of the cabinet was sworn in. Some ministers told us they too knew nothing about this until the last minute. Allawi set out his agenda with a wide range of promises on everything from services to the economy, democracy and especially security.

AYAD ALLAWI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Here I call on the efforts of all people to defend the country. I call on the heroes of the past, all the regions of Iraq and the sons of Iraq, and I call on their efforts to eradicate foreign terrorists who are killing our people and destroying our country.

AMANPOUR: He offered a pardon for any Iraqi insurgents and former Saddam loyalists who did not have blood on their hands, that in return for information and cooperation in fingering the terrorists.

While he has repeatedly said he would impose emergency security measures, that's expected to fall short of full marshal law. Allawi has yet to detail his security plan. It could include curfews and a ban on public gatherings.

As for the people, in Baghdad they welcomed their new sovereignty and most yearn for a new strongman.

"I want to tell the government may God make your work a success," says pensioner Hamid Abas (ph). "Take care of us and be strong."

"Every Iraqi is happy with this day," says Amar Agrosa (ph). "We want to rest. It's been 13 or 14 months and we've got nothing. Wherever we go, there are explosions."

(on camera): A brand new Iraqi flag now flies over this Green Zone and this is once again sovereign Iraqi territory, but this country is also swept up in the terror of the insurgency and so the mood can best be summed up as hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MANN: In some respects, June 28, 2004 could turn out to be the most important day of George Bush's presidency. History's verdict on his years in the Oval Office will be shaped in large part by what happens in Iraq in the years to come.

The president is in Istanbul, Turkey for a NATO summit. Senior White House correspondent John King is there as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was a tightly-held secret as the president arrived for Monday's NATO Summit session, then this note from his national security advisor: "Iraq is sovereign."

Mr. Bush scribbled his reaction in the margin, "Let freedom reign!"

Then a glance at his watch to mark the moment and a celebratory handshake with the leader at his side from the beginning of the Iraqi debate. This time no banners declaring "Mission Accomplished," but while Mr. Bush was more subdued, he was optimistic and by no means apologetic.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: We pledged to end a dangerous regime, to free the oppressed and to restore sovereignty. We have kept our word.

KING: The president called the early transfer of power a tribute to Iraq's new government and a message to those behind the violent insurgency.

BUSH: But their bombs and attacks have not prevented Iraqi sovereignty and they will not prevent Iraqi democracy.

KING: From a legal standpoint, occupation over after 14 months. But 138,000 U.S. and 12,000 British troops remain and Prime Minister Blair warned of difficult and dangerous days ahead.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We will stay for as long as it takes to make sure that that support is there for them, so that we help them to that freedom and democracy they want to see.

KING: The NATO alliance quickly pledged help training Iraqi security force. Not too long ago, Mr. Bush had hoped for NATO troops, not just training, but he compromised in the face of familiar opposition.

GERHARD SCHROEDER, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): It is not the vocation of NATO to intervene in Iraq.

KING: Administration officials say the idea of transferring sovereignty ahead of schedule gained steam about a week ago, that Iraq's new prime minister gave the final OK Sunday night, saying the sooner he took power, the sooner he could launch new efforts to improve security.

BUSH: And our job is to help the Iraqis stand up forces that are able to deal with these thugs.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MANN: Senior White House correspondent John King reporting there.

We have to take a break. When we come back, reflections of a delighted diplomat, Iraq's ambassador to the United States.

Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECY. OF DEFENSE: A successful Iraq is peaceful and democratic and respectful of all of the religious and ethnic groups in that country is exactly what the terrorists don't want, and therefore they will continue for a while to try to stop it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is the first time the Iraqi flag is flying in the breeze since the foreign forces entered this country. We are able and we are ready to provide security for our people in this district without the help of foreign forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As the transfer of the government to the new government in Iraq, we have a lot of belief that Iraq is going to be looking forward, more better and better prosperity, looking forward, better future. That's all the Iraqis are waiting for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MANN: Baghdad's most prominent building is still going to be an American outpost. The Republican Palace was built for Saddam Hussein and then became the home of the Coalition Provisional Authority. With the Authority officially dissolved, it is now slated to become an annex to the U.S. embassy. The government of Iraq is eventually to retake possession of the palace, but like complete control of the country as a whole, that is still some time away.

Welcome back.

Iraq's new government has been put into place by foreign forces. It is being backed by foreign funds. And it has a long way to go to convince many Iraqis that it represents their interests, but in the immediate term it's got to govern a very difficult country.

A short time ago, we got in touch with Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Rend al-Rahim, to talk about Monday's announcement. She said though it was made in secrecy, it was not made in fear.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REND AL-RAHIM, IRAQI AMB. TO U.S.: Well, it wasn't a sign of fear. It was a sign of precaution, and it's always wise, if you know that there are dangers out there, to take precautious. I think it was a very wise move. We all know that the terrorists were intent on disrupting and delaying the handover. Actually, these terrorists have no political aim except to derail the process of political progress in Iraq and the reconstruction.

They're killing more Iraqis than they're killing anybody else. They're kidnapping people who are exclusively involved in Iraq's physical reconstruction. This move frightens them and so they were vowing to have explosions on June 30 and I think it was very, very wise.

I also admire the fact that it wasn't leaked. This is extraordinary. So I can tell you that there are even some ministers in Iraq on the cabinet to whom this was a surprise.

MANN: Iraq now is sovereign. Ministers in that cabinet will have to decide how they will address the problem of security. Are there going to be stronger measures now? There's been much talk in the last few days about Marshal Law, whether by that name or by another, stronger measures like restrictions on freedom of assembly, restrictions on freedom of movement, a curfew, for example, to try and keep city streets secure at night.

How many of those measures do you expect to see in the near future?

RAHIM: I think we'll see some of them implemented in different parts of the country. Remember that nobody has said that their going to impose all of these throughout the country. There are many parts of the country which are peaceful, places like Samarra, Dawaniya, in the South, certainly in Iraqi Kurdistan, Northern Iraq.

They have said that they will impose these selectively and for a limited period of time. I think people are forgetting that these kind of emergency measures -- and it's not Marshal Law, by the way. It's emergency laws. These emergency laws were in fact put into effect, again selectively, by the coalition forces, because they did impose a curfew in Najaf and also in Fallujah at one point. They did have certain emergency laws in operation even before the handover.

So the new government is only making it known that it will do so, and the interesting thing is that the ordinary Iraqi people who want nothing more than peace and stability have welcomed such measures.

MANN: These measures are going to be enforced -- forgive me for interrupting. They'll be enforced even after this day by international troops, primarily by U.S. troops. In a country like yours, where the government is young and the rule of law is weak, whoever has the guns really has the power. Is it going to be some time until Iraqis really have the means to take complete control over their country from the U.S. military?

RAHIM: Yes, actually we've been saying repeatedly that it's going to take some time. We need to train our troops, whether they're Army or National Guard or police forces. They need more training. Many of them need training.

We also need to buildup the leadership system of those troops. Leadership is a very important element because it builds morale and it gives people a unity of purpose. We also need to equip them. None of that can happen overnight. It will happen incrementally.

But eventually it will happen and security will be in the hands of Iraqis. We also, by the way, I forgot to mention, need to build up our intelligence capability, because that is as important. It's a preemptive measure that is as important as taking action in pursuing wrongdoers.

MANN: I know you're in a rush for time. Let me ask you one last quick question. Was it a surprise to you, the handover to sovereignty?

RAHIM: It was a surprise that it happened two days earlier. If ministers in Baghdad weren't aware of it, I certainly was surprised, very pleasantly so. It meant that we had to hustle a little bit in the embassy, but it was the best kept secret. How often can you keep a secret like that in Washington.

MANN: Rend al-Rahim, ambassador of Iraq to the United States. Thanks very much, and congratulations on this day.

RAHIM: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MANN: We take a break, and then a new government in an old neighborhood. When we come back, how the news is playing out across the Arab world.

Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess the only way that we have a future is for them to have a democratic government. I think it's pretty amazing that we've gotten one established in so short a period of time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think it's going to be that clean. It's not going to be that quick, and we're probably going to be there for a long time, and there's no, you know, there's no easy fix. A new president, I don't think is going to change things either, so we're sort of there, unfortunately. And our boys have to suffer because of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We pray and we plead for a safe release and we ask all people of the world to join us in our prayers. May God bless us all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MANN: The U.S. military is still not confirming whether the man being held hostage in this video is a U.S. Marine on active duty, but they do say Corporal Wassef Hassoun has been missing since June 20. According to a voice on the video, insurgents lured the Arabic language interpreter from his military base. Extremists are also holding and vowing to kill four other hostages; three Turkish contractors and a Pakistani.

Welcome back.

The new Iraqi government is promising a tough line against insurgents. Defense Minister Hassem Shalon (ph) told "Newsweek" magazine, and we're quoting here, "We'll teach them a lesson they won't forget."

"Americans and allied forces have certain restrictions," he said, "we don't have."

Crucial to the success of the new government is support not only in Iraq but in the region as a whole. For now, the response to Monday's handover has been positive in some places, muted in others. How much optimism is there?

Joining us now from Washington to talk about that is Salameh Nematt, Washington correspondent for the "Al Hayat" newspaper.

Thanks so much for being with us.

We heard from the ambassador to the United States. She is full of optimism and enthusiasm. How widely shared are those feelings, do you think, in the Arab world?

SALAMEH NEMATT, "AL HAYAT": Well, it really depends on which part of the Arab world we're talking about.

I think that what happened is a landmark achievement towards full sovereignty and eventually for Iraqi control of their fate. This might not take place before elections take place in January of next year, by January of next year.

I think that it really depends, you know, there are countries in the region that are not very happy about the success of the American project in Iraq and who have been actually trying to undermine the Iraqi transitional government. We must take note of the fact that not a single Arab official has visited Baghdad until now, not during the Iraqi Governing Council's rule and not during this interim government. There is not much enthusiasm in the region to recognize the Iraq government. And apart from King Abdullah of Jordan today, who sent his congratulations to the president of Iraq and the prime minister, Ayad Allawi, there hasn't been much Arab enthusiasm for this step.

MANN: Let me ask you about why that is. Obviously, a portion of it is obvious. No one in the region is all that enthusiastic about Western intervention in Arab affairs, but aren't there domestic concerns that Arab governments have about there?

NEMATT: Well, you know, the United States administration about a year and a half ago did make it clear to everybody in the world, including across the Middle East, that the regime change in Iraq is the beginning of regime change throughout the region towards democracy. We know that there is not a single elected government throughout the Middle East, and these people are not very comfortable to see this transition taking place, and they're going to be even more worried if they do see elections taking place, where Iraq is going to be the first Arab elected government in the region.

MANN: Now, Ayad Allawi, in his remarks, made a kind of vague reference to the fact that he was mindful of who his country's enemies are right now and who its friends are. Who are they? Which governments, to your mind, are actually actively involved in efforts to undermine him and his government?

NEMATT: I think what really comes to mind mainly is Iran and Syria now, because Iranians have been basically encouraging the insurgency. The Shiite, leader, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)Shiite leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, as been backed by Iran, at least by the radical branch of the Iranian regime. The Syrians have made it very clear that they're gong to do everything they can to undermine the Americans in Iraq because they feel that they might be next on the list of regime change, at least from their public declarations, we can tell that at least these two countries are working against the success of Iraq in achieving sovereignty and eventually democracy.

So there might be other forces in the region. As I said, most of the countries in the Middle East are not democratic and what is happening in Iraq now is something that makes many, many regimes in that part of the world basically shiver at the prospects that might come after the Iraqi transition.

MANN: Whether they are free to speak what's on their minds or not, how many Arabs who hope for reform in the countries that you've mentioned, how many Iranians are really hoping that Ayad Allawi and his government will succeed?

NEMATT: I think that there is a lot of concern in the region. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what is happening, they're not sure whether the United States will have this long-term commitment to make the transition in Iraq succeed.

There is no doubt about it that the pro-democracy reformers in the region are pleased that at least this step has taken place. It's an historic step, no doubt about it. But they're afraid that, you know, it's a race against time. They want to see who is going to have, you know, the long term commitment. Is it going to be the United States and its allies or is it going to be the terrorists and their supporters in the region.

Ultimately, Ayad Allawi faces a daunting challenge, but I have no doubt that now that sovereignty has been transferred, Ayad Allawi is going to be taking tough measures on the security, military level to make sure that he gains control of the country. He will have to rely on American technical, financial and military support without appearing to be an American puppet. This is not an easy task.

He needs all the support he can get, and I think Washington can also help him if it can urge its friends in the region, whoever they are, to basically give recognition to this government, maybe some leaders at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) visit Baghdad and lend their support for this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Iraqi democracy.

MANN: Now the government is hours old already, so let me ask you on the basis of the experience that we've had watching it, is there any way to tell if they have been taking the right steps? Is there evidence enough to know whether the first moves have been the right ones?

NEMATT: I think as far as the Iraqi government is concerned, they're' discussing the introduction of emergency laws, and to be honest, in my view, I am surprised they did not announce emergency laws the day after the fall of the Saddam regime, because under the circumstance -- now you've got Iraqi loyal forces to Saddam Hussein merged into the population, and they were bound to come back. They should have announced (AUDIO GAP).

But now that they are looking into it, I think they most likely will take these measures and they will have to conduct this house to house search in the coming period to really find these people who are trying to undermine the Iraqi state as a whole, and including also taking care of the media, or some of the media, in Baghdad, that has been (UNINTELLIGIBLE) government in the region who have very much worked towards undermining the credibility of the Iraqi government and lend support to the terrorists by blurring the line between legitimate resistance and acts of criminal terrorism.

MANN: Just one last question for you and it's a crucial one on a day like today. There are people who suggest, with good reason, I think, that Iraqi is really not sovereign. Papers have changed hands and faces have changed, but the United States military was in control and it remains in control, and the future of the country is still very much in U.S. hands. Do you think that's true?

NEMATT: I think in that sense, probably yes, it's not completely sovereign, but I don't know of many countries in the world who are completely sovereign in the sense, you know, you have 130 countries in the world who have American forces. Many countries in the world are dependent on foreign aid, including, you know, many countries in the Middle East. Does that make them less sovereign? Is that very important?

I think, yes, the military and security decision will ultimately rest with Washington for the obvious reasons. The Iraqis themselves don't want American forces to withdraw before they can control the situation themselves. And, you know, I think that as we progress towards elections, and this is really the crucial point, if the Iraqis succeed in building their security establishment, the military, et cetera, then the Iraqi government will show, the elected government is going to be taking over, and this is going to be a really big historical transformation that will change the face of the Middle East eventually.

MANN: Salameh Nematt of "Al Hayat," we're always grateful when you're with us. Thanks so much.

NEMATT: Pleasure, thank you.

MANN: That's INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. There's more news and more coverage of events in Iraq coming up.

END

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