Delores L. Walker, Free Press Reporter

Power has been handed over to an interim Iraqi government (IIG) which will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the country's affairs.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, from the majority Shia community and a figurehead president, Sunnii tribal chief Ghazi Yawer, along with two deputies, one Shia, one Kurd will lead the new government.

Although the government is said to be "fully sovereign", U.S. and other forces will remain in Iraq to maintain security. To begin with the sovereignty will be limited in practice, because the IIG is only an interim body and will not be able to permanently write or amend the country's basic laws. In the eyes of some Iraqis the interim officials are tainted since they were installed under U.S. auspices.

The handover had been scheduled for June 30, but since the changes are of a symbolic nature, the handover was able to move forward to June 28, two days early.

It was a smart move to some observers, stressing international unity and the coalition's enthusiasm for the handover.

But it signals to others how the insurgents have taken the initiative and have the power to determine the timetable towards progress in Iraq.

With the handover, the US-led military that has occupied Iraq since the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein becomes a multinational force under overall US command.

The Coalition Provisional Authority ceases to be an occupying power in Iraq and the position of chief administrator, held by Paul Bremer, also ceases to exist.

Although the Iraqi interim government will have an important role determining security policy through a national security council chaired by an IIG representative, skeptics say that with 138,000 troops deployed in Iraq....the US will in effect remain an occupying power by another name.

Most Iraqis are of the opinion that the IIG is a puppet government and they are no closer than before to running their own country.

At the top of their list is an immediate return of security, which could deteriorate after the handover. Foreign troops will still have to do most of the work trying to impose security - Iraqi troops and police have failed so far to make a big difference in tackling the insurgency.

Officials are hoping the handover will form a relationship between US forces and Iraqi citizens, which has been racked with suspicion and hostility from many Iraqis.

The next step is an election for a National Assembly in December 2004 or January 2005. This election will form a government empowered to draw up a new constitution that will be voted on by a national referendum in late 2005. If the constitution is approved that will pave the way for a general election before the end of 2005 and if all goes well an elected government will be installed in 2006.

However, obstacles remain, such as the disagreements between Iraq's ethnic and religious groups that have lived for years under the dictatorship of the Sunni elite.

This Week's Circulars