Early sovereignty for Iraq

The United States must give Iraqis free reign over their future.

Violence has cast a lengthening shadow over much of Iraq in recent months, so it was fitting that Monday’s ceremony, formally transferring sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government, was held two days early to avoid more attacks.

The hastily planned ceremony was a clever response to the growing insurgency. We hope it is also a sign of commitment to giving Iraqis as much control over their affairs as quickly as possible.

Despite significant misgivings over President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war and his approach to reconstruction, we share with him and the new Iraqi government their vision for a free, democratic and pluralist Iraq that protects the rights of minorities and delivers stability and opportunity to all.

Iraq today remains a long way from that vision, and it will be a while before violence gives way to genuine democracy. The United States can hasten the coming of that day by giving the fledging government room to grow. Many if not most Iraqis never accepted the now-dissolved Iraqi Governing Council because it was hand-picked and heavily influenced by U.S. officials. Now these same officials must be careful not to saddle the new government with that same ”puppet” reputation.

U.S. influence over Iraq cannot be avoided, even with the formal transfer of sovereignty. Iraq will continue to rely on U.S. military and financial support for years to come. But many mistakes can be easily avoided.

Former chief administrator L. Paul Bremer III used his last days in Iraq to issue a series of edicts governing a host of domestic matters best left to Iraqis. Such meddling cannot continue, and Iraqis must be allowed to overturn the rulings.

Also, U.S. officials must be careful to coordinate American military efforts with the new Iraqi government. Many Iraqis view U.S. troops as occupiers, and anti-insurgency campaigns in cities like Falluja and Baquba remain politically sensitive.

Using a slogan eerily similar to “Mission Accomplished,” Bush triumphantly scribbled, “Let freedom reign!” across a note from National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice confirming the transfer of power on Monday. Letting freedom reign across Iraq means giving Iraqis free rein over their future.