- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

BAGHDAD — U.S. authorities say they are taking a back seat in planning for next week’s transfer of authority to a sovereign Iraqi government, details of which still are being closely guarded.

What had once been anticipated as a major event now appears set to pass with minimal ceremony, both for security reasons and because the interim government named early this month already has assumed most of its functions.

L. Paul Bremer, the outgoing American administrator in Iraq, seemed particularly ambivalent yesterday when asked whether June 30 would be a festive event or a sober ceremony.

“It depends on the Iraqis, I guess,” he told The Washington Times. “It’s their day.”

The event will be so understated that the first U.S. ambassador to Iraq in more than a decade will not attend. John D. Negroponte, most recently Washington’s envoy to the United Nations, will not arrive at his new posting until at least July 2, Coalition Provisional Authority officials said.

“It’s part security, part protocol,” said one U.S. official, who declined to say when the career diplomat would arrive. U.S. officials have ruled out Mr. Negroponte’s participation on the day of the transfer, pointing out that he is to be U.S. ambassador to a sovereign Iraq.

Beyond that, it is difficult to know exactly what the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people will look like after nearly 25 years of Saddam Hussein and 14 months of occupation.

“There are not too many details I can go over,” one CPA public-affairs officer said yesterday. “Security issues. Also, we don’t know much yet.”

Indeed, officials in Baghdad, Washington and other capitals say that any domestic or foreign agitators who want to see a destabilized and fractured Iraq would find a rich and symbolic target in a transfer ceremony.

Iraqi President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer said yesterday that he expects more trouble as the transfer approaches.

“Probably there will be some turbulence,” he said after a meeting with Mr. Bremer and a delegation of five Republican congressmen. “We are expecting the forces of the darkness, as we call them, will try to deter our movement.”

For that reason, any finalized plans are being kept secret. Most people inside the CPA will not learn about the details until Friday, and even then, they say, it will be only in broad terms.

Previous cessions of authority have ranged from Britain’s pageantry-laden 1997 transfer of Hong Kong to China to the U.S. Marines’ final helicopter scramble out of Saigon in 1975.

Coalition and diplomatic sources say June 30 is unlikely to resemble either.

Close to three dozen nations have established embassies here, with varying degrees of representation and responsibility. Many of these diplomats who normally might expect to be invited to such an event say they have been told nothing about what will happen June 30.

“Frankly,” said one diplomat whose nation is a nominal coalition member, “I don’t think we’ll be leaving the grounds. It will be a very dangerous day in Baghdad.”

Meanwhile, with more than 130,000 U.S. troops slated to remain in Iraq indefinitely and even more foreign troops arriving under a U.N.-authorized multinational force, the Iraqis say they expect little to change on the transfer date.

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