GIS Special Topical Studies
Iraq War 2003: Background, Lessons and Follow-On

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June 29, 2004

Ramifications of Early Transfer of Sovereignty to Interim Iraqi Government

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor. The transfer on June 28, 2004, of sovereignty powers for Iraq by the United States Government to the Interim Iraqi Government, two days ahead of the June 30, 2004, promised deadline, gave the United States Bush Administration a small element of surprise and control in the process of containing the political-security situation with regard to Iraq. However, while the move was an essential part of Bush Administration strategy in a critical election year in the US, it will not alter the escalation of violence planned for Iraq by the Iranian Government and some internal Iraqi movements, each of which have strategic objectives of their own.

To a small degree, the early transfer of formal sovereignty gave a boost to the Interim Iraqi Government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and its credibility in mobilizing local forces to deal with insurgency and terrorism issues internally. But in another sense, the Iranian-backed factions will, in particular, attempt to probe the Allawi Government’s ability and resolve over the coming weeks. In this regard, however, all the members of the Interim Iraqi Government are now in the same position as the Iranian clerical leadership: this is a fight for their lives, as well as their power.

In any event, the early transfer of sovereignty side-stepped hostile attempts to mark the event with coordinated acts of insurgency, terrorism and demonstrations. From this perspective, the gesture worked. As well, it enabled US Pres. George W. Bush to make the announcement of the transfer at the NATO summit in Istanbul on June 28, 2004, although the surprise announcement was not well-received by the French Government and some others, who felt that they were owed advance notification. Significantly, however, Bush Administration officials were aware that when, in the past, they had given advance notification to the French Government on events related to Iraq, the information was invariably leaked to anti-US elements in Iraq.

The move by Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Chief Executive L. Paul (Jerry) Bremer to leave Iraq immediately after the handover certainly assisted the credibility of Prime Minister Allawi, as did the almost simultaneous announcement of NATO plans for involvement in the training of the new Iraqi security forces. The NATO gesture — and it was largely a gesture — was more significant than it may have been intended: the Iraqi forces have had great difficulty in maintaining morale, cohesion and loyalty, and the changed sovereignty issue and the appearance of greater international support for the Interim Government may be critical in bolstering the Army and security forces.

There is also the strong prospect that the Allawi Government would be able to mobilize Shi’a forces against the radical Islamists now that it would no longer appear as though such forces were coming to the aid of the US occupation force. So while it is fair to say that the Iranian-led Islamist forces, as well as the nominally-Sunni Islamist forces (bin Ladenists, etc., now with the former Ba’athist forces under them), are preparing to escalate the war, in order to destabilize Iraq, it is equally fair to say that the Allawi Government has the opportunity and capability to mobilize hitherto un-utilized forces to address the threat. In this regard, it seems logical to expect that the “rules of engagement” between the various factions — absent the Coalition forces — will differ greatly from those of the international and US forces.