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Let Freedom Reign
Wednesday June 30, 2004
On Monday morning, Baghdad time Ambassador L Paul Bremer met with about a half dozen people, including the new President and Prime Minister of Iraq and handed to them a signed document terminating the Coalition Provisional Authority's dominion over Iraq and returning sovereignty - after a mere 14 months - to the Iraqi people.
They smiled, and shook hands.
Some miles to the north, in Turkey, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice handed President George W. Bush a note which read:
"Mr. President. Iraq is sovereign. Letter was passed from Bremer at 10:26 AM Iraq Time - Condi."
President Bush, receiving the note, wrote upon it: "Let Freedom Reign!"
He then leaned over to British Prime Minister Tony Blair who was seated next to him and whispered something in his ear. They smiled and shook hands.
In both instances there were no celebrations; no victory dances; no bongo drums and cigars. This was serious business conducted in a serious way.
This was all supposed to have happened on June 30 - which was the date set last November in an agreement with the Iraq Governing Council.
The Baghdad-bound press corps was, to put it mildly, caught off guard. Network anchors who had worked their way to Baghdad to provide live coverage of the handover of power on Wednesday, found themselves on Monday with no one to interview because Bremer and his senior staff had already left the country.
The Western press, therefore, declared the whole business as having been slapped together, as in this lede by by Carol J. Williams and Alissa J. Rubin in the Los Angeles Times: "BAGHDAD - An interim Iraqi government took power Monday after a furtive ceremony �"
And this by the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "BAGHDAD, June 28 -- The United States transferred political authority to an interim Iraqi government in a five-minute surprise ceremony Monday morning..."
It was "furtive" and a "surprise" only because the Western press had been primed to expect all this to happen on Wednesday which was the date set for a return of Iraqi sovereignty last November when just about every reporter who could find the letters I, R, A, and the devilishly difficult "Q" on their keyboards thought that was an absolutely impossible deadline to meet.
Bremer and the Iraqis beat it.
And, for anyone who has ever spent more than an overnight in the Middle East the notion of anything - ANYTHING - happening ahead of schedule is so alien, that it is never even contemplated other than as the punch line for a joke: "An Imam, a Priest, and a Rabbi are looking at a calendar �"
According to folks in the Baghdad with whom I talked, the decision was not taken on Monday morning, it was the result of a week of discussions with interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi who apparently made the point that all the ministries had been turned over to their Iraqi leadership, the government had been on the job for nearly a month and he, facing a deadline of January 2005 to get elections organized and conducted, needed every day he could get.
The new face of Iraq is � Iraqi.
That means press conferences will no longer feature Dan Senor and General Mark Kimmitt explaining about electricity output or gasoline lines. It will be Iraqis. Speaking in Arabic.
Iraqis are taking control of their destiny - which has been our joint goal from the beginning. As they become more comfortable with and more successful in that endeavor, the level violence will recede and the coverage from Iraq will begin to diminish.
Running a news bureau in Baghdad is a horrendously expensive proposition. It will not be long until news organizations decide that the public's appetite for daily front-page news from Iraq has waned and, like news from Afghanistan, it will slowly drift into the "International News" sections toward the back of the "A" section.
All this is good for the Bush camp because once Iraq is off the front pages, the excellent good economic news which has been buried beneath the rubble of terrorist bombs will begin to emerge and get into the public consciousness. And then the election will turn on economic issues all of which are pointing toward Bush.
That may be a surprise to the Western media as well.
On the Secret Decoder Ring Page today: "Bongos and Cigars," the Condoleeza Rice note to the President; and a Mullfoto from stodgy old Greenwich, Connecticut.
Copyright © 2004 Richard A. Galen
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