Transfer of sovereignty looms

25 June 2004
Some of the issues surrounding the nature of interim sovereign rule were ironed out in the lead up to the transfer on 30 June. The US envoy was sworn in, arguments over Saddam Hussein's fate appear resolved and the process of selecting a national advisory council has begun. However, as ever, the backdrop is endemic violence by insurgents and allegations of US heavy-handedness.

A series of apparently co-ordinated attacks struck Mosul, Baquba, Ramadi and Fallujah on 24 June, killing more than 70 people. The majority of fatalities occurred in Mosul, where suicide car bombers struck at various locations across the city. Blame for the incidents was divided between the usual suspects - foreign Islamist militants led by Al-Qaeda kingpin Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and supporters of the former regime.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi blamed the former. He has good reason to fear Al-Zarqawi, having received a death threat attributed to the Jordanian the previous day. Iraqi politicians are well aware of the dangers of high office following a series of assassinations of senior officials in recent months. Allawi was publicly calm about the threat to his life. 'It is expected because we are hunting him,' he said on 23 June.

The US is also determined to track down Al-Zarqawi, who they blame for orchestrating violence throughout Iraq, and they are homing in on Fallujah, a flashpoint for resistance to the occupation. Two air strikes were launched on 20 June and 23 June, targeted at buildings suspected of housing the Al-Qaeda leader and his associates, each killing about 20 people. However, US military officials reported no trace of Al-Zarqawi amid the rubble and unsurprisingly, numerous civilians were among the dead.

Pieces are falling into place in the post-30 June political jigsaw, with the new US ambassador, John Negroponte, sworn in on 23 June. He will head the biggest US embassy in the world. A dispute between Allawi and the White House over custody of Saddam Hussein appears to have been resolved by an agreement that Baghdad will be legally responsible for his fate after 30 June but the former leader will remain in the physical custody of the US. Invitations are being sent out to potential members of a 1,000-strong National Council to advise the interim government. The body will have veto power over legislation, including the budget.

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