Handoff With a Whimper

By Jefferson Morley

The Washington Post

Tuesday, June 29, 2004; 10:00 AM

There are two ways of looking at the United States' early transfer of political authority to the interim Iraqi government, according to the Australian.

Was it "a brilliant step to wrong-foot the insurgents seeking to disrupt the long-planned transfer of power set for tomorrow, or an ignominious acceptance that the security situation in a capital ruled by the US army for the past year remains out of control?" asked a correspondent for Rupert Murdoch's conservative flagship.

After a week in which more than 100 Iraqis were killed in insurgent attacks, up to a dozen foreigners kidnapped and one hostage beheaded, international online observers tend to favor the more downbeat view. Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's hint that he may soon declare martial law deflated expressions of hope. And former U.S. occupation chief L. Paul Bremer's swift dash to a waiting jet was widely noted.

As Channel NewsAsia , Web site of the popular Singapore-based television network, declared, "US-led occupation of Iraq ends early and with a whimper."

Al-Jazeera.net, Web site of the Arab cable news channel, quoted Mustaya Sayyid, an Iraqi professor of political science, as saying, "It's not really a genuine transfer, with this heavy American military and civilian presence and with a low requirement that American troops get authorisation before taking any military action."

In the run-up to the transfer, Iraqi commentators focused on the country's pervasive insecurity.

Al-Adala , a Shiite daily in Baghdad, noted that most of the targets in recent insurgent attacks were "innocent Iraqis, infra-structure, policemen, and so forth. . . . The aim of the so-called 'resistance' is not liberating Iraq."

The United States has not been aiming to liberate Iraq either, said Al-Mashriq, as translated by the Iraqi Press Monitor. The independent daily suggested that the U.S.-led occupation has wittingly opened up the country to foreign penetration.

Iraqis, the paper noted, "have never heard of the phenomena of kidnapping, drugs, or cutting off heads. According to Islamic teachings, to slaughter a bird you must use a sharp knife to prevent it suffering pain. So, we can imagine how man should be treated. The germs of these new phenomena came from outside Iraq."

The United States has enabled the infusion of foreign influence, the paper implied.

"He, who thinks keeping borders uncontrolled is unintentional, is mistaken," the paper said in a clear allusion to the coalition's inability to keep foreign fighters out of the country.

"Iraqis are the only victims of this. Foreigners will leave but these diseases do not easily heal. Sovereignty will be restored, but who will bring us back a safe, healthy society?"

According to Islam Online, "Lay people in Iraq received the power transfer with an unmistakable message: The US-led occupation troops, who will stay under the guise of a multinational keeping force, must leave."

"The first thing we will ask the interim government to do is to expedite the withdrawal of foreigners," lawyer Nizam Hammoudi Taai told the Qatar-based news site.

Still, Iraqis are willing to give the new government a chance, reported Al-Manar, Web site of a Shiite television station in Lebanon.

"In their first reaction to the sped up action, Baghdad residents said that the new government's priority should be to crackdown on attackers who have mounted a series of bloody attacks this month aimed at disrupting the power handover."

"Residents of Sadr City said that sovereignty would not remain with Iraqis unless the U.S. occupying forces pulled out of the country. However they said that they would cooperate with the interim Iraqi government, though it was not elected by the Iraqi people if this would lead to the end of occupation."

From farther away, both Arab nationalist and ardent Zionists see a debacle in the making.

For Jihad Unspun, a Canadian news site not unsympathetic to Osama bin Laden, the headline was "Allawi Expected To Impose Martial Law."

Debkafile is a Tel Aviv-based news and analysis site that often reflects the thinking of people in the Israeli security forces. To Debkafile "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."

"According to our sources around the region. . . 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. . . US ex-administrator Bremer left the hornets' nest of sovereign Iraq behind him when he made haste to depart Baghdad on Monday. "

The news went over better at Iraq Procurement 2004, a British-based Web site sponsored by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce. In addition to reporting on the latest Iraqi news, the site touts an upcoming conference for business executives seeking "to benefit from private scheduled meetings with top [Iraqi] business and political decision makers, including ministers, deputy ministers, governors, director generals and heads of chambers of commerce." Conference sponsors include oil giants Exxon Mobil and Shell, as well as defense contractors like Raytheon and Pratt & Whitney.

In the view of the online media, this is post-occupation Iraq: formally sovereign, chronically violent and oddly attractive to some international investors.