[ OUR OPINION ]
will welcome transfer
COME Wednesday, Americans disillusioned by and weary of the war in Iraq, as well as Iraqis who want to regain control of their country, will welcome the transfer of authority from U.S. occupation forces to a new Iraqi government.
The United States will nominally hand over power to the interim government in three days
Although the hand-over is largely symbolic, it confers a psychological share of sovereign governance to the people of both nations and the rest of the world.
Even so, hostilities are unlikely to ease off as long as U.S. troops remain, and they will stay put until Iraqis can establish security on their own. Whether this can be accomplished by January, in time to carry out elections intended to replace the foreign-appointed interim government, will be critical for Iraq's real ownership of its future.
For President Bush, the transfer lightens by a small degree the millstone of a war that has not gone as he envisioned and has eroded his opportunity for re-election. What the Bush administration miscalculated as a quick, clean incursion to remove Saddam Hussein from power has unfolded as a long slog.
The despised occupation has produced a surge of violence and political turmoil within and without Iraq. Far broader, however, is the global damage to the stature of the United States.
There is now a deteriorated view of the capacity and objectives of American power as the U.S. tenure in Iraq lurches to an ostensible end. Skepticism has been heightened as the administration stumbled on several fronts: faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction and terrorist organizations, lapses in control and treatment of prisoners and detainees, misreading of the strength of the Iraqi insurgence as well as the military and financial muscle essential to conduct the war.
On the home front, while the administration's war on terrorism zigzagged to Iraq, chilling mistakes stained domestic investigations, leading to unwarranted detention of American citizens -- suspects through mere association. One, an Army chaplain at Guantanamo who converted to Islam, was accused of espionage and held for more than six months before absence of evidence forced his release. Another, an Oregon attorney who advertised in a directory produced by a man who had business dealings with Osama bin Laden's former personal secretary, was arrested as a suspect in the Madrid bombings even though Spanish authorities concluded that a fingerprint found on a bag of detonators did not match his.
The transfer grants Iraqis the illusion of sovereignty. Administrator Paul Bremner, the face of the American occupation, will leave the country and the interim leaders will take charge. But without a constitution, they cannot pass laws. Without fully competent military and security forces, they will continue to rely heavily on the 138,000 U.S. troops and will have to "consult" with U.S. generals on operations.
A surge of violence is expected in the few days left before the transfer, but the hope is that uprisings will subsequently taper off. A recent survey of Iraqis showed that most would feel more secure if U.S. troops left. Meanwhile, a poll of Americans last week suggests for the first time that most deem the invasion a mistake and believe the nation is less safe from terrorism because of the war. The transfer may be a salve for both.