Kurds Cast Wary Eye on Iraq Handover

The new interim Iraqi government was told only at the weekend that sovereignty would be transferred two days ahead of schedule.

SULAYMANIYAH, Northern Iraq - The new interim Iraqi government was told only at the weekend that sovereignty would be transferred two days ahead of schedule. The surprise move was intended to catch insurgents off guard and avert suspected attacks to sabotage it.

With the transfer of power, civilian governor Paul Bremmer left Iraq and was replaced by American Ambassador John Negroponte, formerly envoy to the United Nations.

At face value, this is the official end of the occupation of Iraq. But in reality American rule of Iraq - both military and economic - will continue. The United States will maintain control of the foundation for Iraq's development, into which the contributions and funds remaining in the UN foundation that managed the oil for fodd program during Saddam Hussein's regime are funneled.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has reached agreements with the leaders of the organizations and political movements to dismantle all private militias and merge them into the new Iraqi army.

However, there is no certainty this will happen. The Kurds alone will be allowed to keep their own army, numbering close to 220,000 troops. Kurdistan will continue to have full autonomous status.

Kurdish politicians speculate that the power transfer to the interim Iraqi government could launch a series of political account settling, which might lead to violent vendettas.

"The struggle is expected mainly among the Shi'ites, between Ali Sistani's men and Moqtada al-Sader's Mehdi Army, now that Sadr is no longer threatened by coalition troops," says a Kurdish official who says he knew of the decision to transfer power early.

"There will be another struggle between the Sunis and Shi'ites, and a third between the Arabs and Kurds, especially in the Kirkuk city area." He said Kurds are angry because they believe their leadership "sold out" Kurdish interests in Kirkuk.

"The Iraqi government's main problem is the absence of intelligence and effective fighting forces," said an Iraqi source close to the government. "We will have to avail ourselves of American assistance, and continue to appear to be obeying their orders as if we are not running the state."

Another fear is that the new government will have to recruit into the army intelligence people who worked for Saddam, to help them gain control over the security situation.

The next stage in building the Iraqi government is convening the National Congress of around 1,000 delegates, whose job will be to propose an agreed way of elections for a parliament. The convention is scheduled for the beginning of July in Dukhan, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

The convention will determine the image of the new Iraqi government, which cynics in Kurdistan suggest will be a Shi'ite state with a conservative religious orientation.

"From such a regime and such a state we can expect nothing," said a senior Kurdish official. "This may be the time to declare an independent Kurdish State."