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Iraq: Voices Of Baghdad -- Iraqis Hold Great Hopes For Sovereignty

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and former CPA head L. Paul Bremer Iraqis hope that today's transfer of power by the United States to the interim Iraqi government will give them more security and a better life. They say their new Iraqi leaders are better prepared to cope with the difficulties the country is facing. RFE/RL speaks with Iraqis on the streets in the capital, Baghdad.

Baghdad, 28 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Ordinary Iraqis have big expectations for the transfer of power and hope it will bring back security and a better life.

Karrar Omran is a security guard working for a private Iraqi company. He says he was not surprised by today's sudden, low-key transfer of power two days earlier than the planned 30 June return of sovereignty. With Iraq plagued by violence and insecurity, he said a big ceremony would have been a target for insurgents.

"We Iraqis knew that the transfer of power would be a surprise,” he said. “We had it in our minds that it would be this way. It had to be a surprise -- as you know, we have a weak government and insurgents from [neighboring] countries were coming to Iraq from all directions, and it had to be a surprise," Omran says.

Omran says he believes insurgents and terrorists were planning numerous attacks for 30 June. The early transfer, he says, was sure to foil many of their plans, noting that the streets, for now, are free of any violence.

But is Omran's country truly independent and sovereign? He says no, not as long as there are American troops in Iraq. But at the same time, he admits the situation is too complex to change overnight.

"Concerning the transfer of power, we don't expect anything right now. We don't know what the new president will do. It could be 15 or 20 months, or one month. And only then will we be able to say something, because we will be able to see what they [the government] has done for the people," Omran says.

Ziad owns a computer shop in Baghdad's Mansour district. He says he has much more trust in the interim government than he did in the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. He says officials in the interim government, like President Ghazi al-Yawar, are well known in Iraq and appear to be more efficient.

"The government that has been formed is much better than what we had [with the Iraqi Governing Council]. All of them are experienced. I think they are working well and I hope they will succeed," Ziad says.

Ziad says he has no hopes that Iraq's electricity shortages or security problems will be solved immediately. He says he expects sabotage to continue and that it will take time before electricity is back on 24 hours a day.

On a personal note, Ziad says he is confident that today's power transfer will mean a boon for his business.

"Business now, during [the occupation] has been very good, much better than it was before the occupation. Things are moving, people have buying power. And of course, after the handover we hope we will have stability and business and things will get even better," Ziad says.

At the same time, Ziad says he has no desire to see the coalition troops pull out of Iraq anytime soon. That, he says, would lead the country into chaos.

"In the next few years, the presence of the Americans is a necessity for Iraq and very important. The full handover of power will be made, step-by-step, in a diplomatic way, and we will have it sooner or later," Ziad says.

Sheik Abdel Jabar Menhel of Baghdad's Shi'a al-Rahman mosque says he feels optimistic about Iraq's future.

"In fact, I am very optimistic, and I am sure that the security will be good; better than before. We think that [responsibility for] the security should be handed to the Iraqi government, and I wish and I hope that the government of [Prime Minister] Iyad Allawi will succeed," Menhel says.

However, he says even after today's transfer of power, the situation will be uncertain as long as foreign troops remain in the country. He says he hopes Iraqis will gradually come to hold complete sovereignty.

Asked about mounting Shi'a resistance to the U.S.-led occupation -- illustrated by the recent hostilities between coalition troops and forces loyal to Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- Menhel says the transfer of power may pacify many angry feelings among both Shi'as and Sunnis.

"I know how the [Iraqi insurgents] think. They are fighting the occupation. They didn't fight just for the sake of fighting. They didn't fight the Iraqi government. They are fighting the Americans. They look at the Americans as an occupying force. When they see that this country is led by an Iraqi government, they will be calm," Menhel says.

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