Ordinary Iraqis, who have been suffering for decades due to the consequences of wars and UN sanctions, were more than willing to give Allawi's US-appointed government a chance to restore stability and end military occupation. 

The phrase "handing over sovereignty to Iraqis" had gained much support before the interim Iraqi government took office on 28 June 2004, with a sizeable segment of the Iraqi population looking forward to a new life. 

However, given the fact that the US forces' military operations in Iraq have not substantially changed since the "handover of sovereignty", many Iraqis have again raised the vital question: Has sovereignty really been restored and the occupation ended? Or were Iraqis misled?

"We look to the day
when Iraqi people are able to handle their issues themselves and we can go back home"

Corporal Major TV Johnson,
First Marine Division spokesman

On the ground, US military deployment has not changed; the number of foreign troops is increasing and recent statements by US officials - since the so-called handover of authority on 28 June - that the US military is staying in Iraq for years to come, have led citizens to doubt whether a new life is on the horizon. 

Illegal process

Iraqis opposed to the presence of foreign troops in the country argue that Iraqi sovereignty as of now is non-existent.

Salah al-Mukhtar, a former Iraqi ambassador to India, says the whole process of Iraqi sovereignty is void according to the UN charter.

"The UN charter is based on sovereignty; member states are sovereign countries and, according to that, it is illegal that an occupying force enjoys the right to steal the sovereignty of a country and return it back according to a UN resolution.

"Therefore, any UN resolution granting sovereignty to Iraq is unlawful, because that means the UN is acknowledging the occupation," he adds.

Iraqi government officials' regular statements that Iraq has become a sovereign state and that occupation has gone do not go down well with some in the country.

A spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMS), Muhammad Ayash al-Kubaisi, cited the recent arrest of the editor-in-chief of the association's mouthpiece newspaper al-Basaer (Insight) as an example of "absent" sovereignty.

"How can a group of foreign soldiers stop an Iraqi citizen like Dr Muthana al-Dhari and arrest him if there is a sovereign government? What are those soldiers doing in the heart of Baghdad? Why did the Iraqi police not arrest him instead?" al-Kubaisi said.

"Moreover, after two days of interrogations, they handed al-Dhari over to the Iraqi police, as if they are saying to them we are finished with him, take him if you like now."

Iraqi detainees

The status of Iraqi detainees, who are held without charge by the US army in Iraq, has not changed since the handover of responsibilities.

"US occupation forces are still enjoying the right of establishing prisons and the searching of houses," al-Mukhtar said.

Al-Mukhtar says the interim Iraq
government is remote controlled

Al-Kubaisi said that last week US forces released two of his friends from prison, after months of detention, without charge.

"Jamal and Kamal Shakir spent months in prison without charges, and they were released without being told why they were being released.

"I talked to them; they do not know why they were arrested in the first place, and prison officials were unable to tell them anything about the motives which led to their arrest and subsequent release," he said.  

Less intimidation

Aljazeera.net spoke to Corporal Major TV Johnson, spokesman for the First Marine Division in Anbar governorate in Iraq, who insists that US-led forces in Iraq coordinate everything with the Iraqi Government.

The continued presence of US
forces troubles many Iraqis

But he says US troops cannot afford to let the new Iraqi police operate alone at present.

"Iraqi police are still in need of more personnel and equipment, and the situation right now means it will continue to need the help of the multinational forces," he said.

Johnson blames the attacks on police stations for the slowness in the development of an Iraqi police force,  saying they make young men and women less keen to join the police.

He says the US-led forces in Iraq coordinate with Iraqi authorities when it comes to the arrest of those he describes as "bad actors" or when they need to search an Iraqi area or house, but sees a day when US forces will not be there.

"We look to the day when Iraqi people are able to handle their issues themselves and we can go back home," he said. 

Decisions of sovereignty

Salah al-Mukhtar described the relationship between US officials and the interim Iraqi government as remote-controlled.

"The US-installed Iraqi president, Ghazi al-Yawir, announced last month that there would be a pardon for those Iraqis who carried guns before the formation of Iyad Allawi.

"But the US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, sent him the instructions through the media, when he said those who killed Americans would not be pardoned.

"The following day all Iraqi officials announced in their media statements that the planned pardon would not include those who killed Americans in Iraq. Where is the sovereignty?"

The interim Iraqi government offered a limited amnesty on 7 August 2004 pardoning those Iraqis who have committed minor crimes, and excluded those who have killed US soldiers and Iraqi police.