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Early Iraq handover more than week in making
Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, right, is sworn into office Monday by Iraqi Chief Justice Midhat Al-Mahmodi.
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Paul Bremer hands over the transfer document to Iraqis.

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi takes his oath of office.

U.S. lawmakers have doubts about Iraqi security.
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ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- Officials in the United States and Iraq talked for more than a week about the idea of handing over sovereignty before the scheduled date of June 30, and the ultimate decision came at the urging of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a senior administration official said Monday.

The decision was based on two factors: the readiness of Iraqi officials and security concerns, the official told reporters in Istanbul, where President Bush is attending the NATO summit.

"Prime Minister Allawi strongly advised us that today would be the right day to do it," the official said. Allawi made a final decision Sunday night.

President Bush knew about the possibility for several days, and received final word Sunday evening, the official said, speaking anonymously as part of a "background briefing."

Other members of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq were notified early Monday, the official said.

"The main reason that Prime Minister Allawi gave is that he believes it would strengthen his hand in dealing with the terrorist threat in his country and that it would demonstrate to the Iraqi people and to the world that this new government is capable, willing and ready to run their country, to improve the daily lives of the Iraqi people and to improve the security environment in their country."

Bush was "pleased with the news," because it shows the government was "ahead of schedule and fully capable of taking charge" and dealing with the "terrorist threat," the official said.

But the early transfer of power in no way erases the threat of terrorist attacks in the country, which the U.S.-led coalition expected would increase on the day of the transfer and in the days after, the official said. Insurgents "are now going to change their sights, probably, and try to focus on the elections" in Iraq.

The official adamantly denied that the early transfer of power suggests that terrorists and insurgents have the power to change the coalition's actions.

"What this new government has demonstrated is that, in fact, they were fully ready to take control."

The official said Iraq will have the support of U.S. forces and a growing multinational force, as well as NATO assistance in training Iraqi forces, who will steadily take more control of security efforts nationwide.

Allawi appealed for national unity after a swearing-in ceremony Monday.

Allawi called national unity "a sacred duty" and called for the international community, including Arab nations, "to work together to handle problems in the area in a civilized manner."

"We will not forget who stood by and against us," Allawi said at the ceremony, a clear warning to insurgents trying to topple the government.

But, he said, "the transformation from dictatorship to civil society" is "a major task" likely to take many years.

"Our dear Iraq is at a setback," he said, "but it will be a temporary setback. We will protect all the people regardless of religion, color or any other affiliation." (Full story)

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