U.S. troops surprised but ready as authority is handed over in Iraq
BAGHDAD — Soldiers in downtown Baghdad said Monday they were surprised to learn the Iraqi handover came two days earlier than expected.
The soldiers, members of the Oregon Army National Guard, added that they hoped the surprise move derailed any terror plans being made by insurgents who oppose the new government.
“I thought it absolutely took the wind out of their sails,” said Spc. Victor Zayas of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment.
“I think they were trying to plan a big last stand or terror event and this just took it away from them.”
The Coalition Provisional Authority, which has been running Iraq since the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein, had planned to hand over authority on Wednesday to Iraq’s new provisional government.
But the CPA instead transferred power during a brief ceremony at 10:26 a.m. Monday at Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s office inside the heavily guarded Green Zone.
Soldiers guarding the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, where many foreign contractors and media are staying, noted that the handover did not mean a stop to business for the U.S. military.
“The handover is going to be slow,” said Sgt. Eric Marsonette, 34, of Eugene, Ore. “If it happens too fast, it’s going to be a shock to the [Iraqi] people.
“When the military pulls out, that’s going to be the hardest time for them.”
The troops said they were preparing for increased violence on Wednesday when the handover was supposed to take place.
On Monday, they said they found out just 10 minutes before it occurred that the event was moved up.
People who were trying to get into the hotels on Monday were slowed by increased security measures. They were searched more thoroughly than usual by soldiers and Iraqi security personnel and were asked what business they had at the hotels, according to Sgt. Brian Hambright.
“During the handover and after the ceremony, I thought terrorists were going to do something,” said Hambright, 33, of Springfield, Ore. “We just made plans for chaos.”
After the ceremony, the Coalition Provisional Authority ceased to exist, according to Shane Wolfe, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, formerly the CPA.
“They [CPA] were the authorized administration during the occupation,” Wolfe said. “The occupation doesn’t exist anymore, and the CPA ceased to exist after the handover was announced.”
While most of the soldiers guarding the downtown hotels said they were anticipating trouble, one said he hoped the hype would not live up to expectations.
“People have been expecting all hell to break loose, like when the year 2000 came,” said Spc. Moises Becerra of Eugene, Ore. “But nothing happened then.
“We won’t know until tomorrow, but we’ll be prepared as always.”