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U.S. Hands Over Control of Baghdad's Green Zone to Iraq

This is a rush transcript from "America's News HQ," January 2, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HEATHER NAUERT, HOST: A historic handover in Iraq today and a sign how far that country has come since the war began. You've all heard about the Green Zone in Baghdad. It's a place where U.S. troops set up shop and ran the war to get Iraq up and running again. It's come to be a symbol of the U.S.-led occupation.

But it's not going to be viewed that way anymore — at least that's how the Americans think of it. Iraqis are now in full control of the Green Zone.

FOX's Malini Wilkes reports from Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALINI WILKES, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The New Year is bringing major changes to the way the U.S. military operates in Iraq. Some of those changes already visible in the Green Zone, the high-security compound in central Baghdad. The government has taken control of Saddam's presidential palace, the building that had housed the U.S. embassy.

The prime minister declared that Iraqi sovereignty has been restored and proposed a national holiday for January 1st. The Americans have moved to a massive newly-built embassy compound. The Green Zone served as headquarters for the U.S. military and diplomats, and has been a symbol of American presence here for nearly six years.

The U.S. military has also handed control of security in the Green Zone to Iraqi forces. Iraqis now are handling all the checkpoints with Americans stepping back into a support role.

UNIDENTIFIED U.S. SOLDIER: It's a good feeling, actually, because it's time for change. It is time to, you know, give the country back to Iraq. I mean, they are proud of their country, and they're ready.

WILKES: But the Green Zone remains a high-profile target hit by several bomb attacks and numerous mortar attacks over the years. And the Iraqis are likely to require U.S. help for many months to come. But the rules of the game are changing. U.S. troops can no longer conduct operations without the Iraqis' approval, and they will need warrants signed by an Iraqi judge to arrest and detain suspects — Heather?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NAUERT: All right. Malini Wilkes in Baghdad, filing that report for us tonight.

Well, my next guest shows why — firsthand, why it's such an important milestone for both Iraq and the United States as what happened today.

Video: Watch Heather Nauert's interview

FOX News contributor, Dan Senor was a spokesman for the interim government of Iraq, when there was an interim government. That was back in the very, very beginning. He was also an advisor to it. And he joins us now.

Hi, Dan.

DAN SENOR, FMR. ADVISOR TO IRAQI INTERIM GOV'T: Hi, Heather.

NAUERT: OK. So, this is really a big deal. I mean, the Green Zone being handed over. Fallujah also is being handed over. A lot of the troops leaving there, but a small group of them will be left for a while. Do you that this is a symbolic or are Iraqis really in control?

SENOR: I think the Iraqis are in control from a security standpoint, a number of areas, but they know we're there to provide support if they need it. So, if it gets — and certainly, we'll continue to help them in training; but if things suddenly escalate again in a negative direction, U.S. forces will be there to back up. But Iraqis will be taking the lead.

And I think the real big turning point was in Basrah last spring, March and April when President Maliki conducted an operation in southern Iraq and he didn't notify the U.S. ambassador, he didn't notify General Petraeus. He left them know as an afterthought, and, oh, by the way, I'm conducting this operation. Since then, what you have seen is Iraqis leading, taking their own decisions, communicating with us but not relying on us.

NAUERT: OK. Well, that's good news then for the direction of that country, and for its people. One thing I think a lot of folks would be concerned about — what does this mean for U.S. troops? Because in some ways, this handover could make it more difficult for them.

SENOR: Yes, well, we are now going to have to coordinate with Iraqis on military operations we are involved with in a way that we, our forces, have never had to before. For instance, there are requirements that if U.S. forces want to detain an Iraqi citizen, an Iraqi national, they must get a warrant, the equivalent of an arrest warrant from the Iraqi government. That's going to make things complicated.

NAUERT: So, they have to literally like in the United States .

SENOR: Yes.

NAUERT: . wake a judge up in the middle of the night and say, "Hey, we got this bad guy, we want to go and get him"?

SENOR: For all intents and purposes, yes. Now, how we'll work operationally, they'll work it out. I'm sure they'll find some ways to expedite things when it's necessary. It's going to be very complicated. It's going to be very murky.

But what we've had before was complicated and murky. I mean, we've had to fight our guys have had to fight a counter-insurgency. So, it's been complicated before. It's going to be complicated in a different way now. The important thing is that the trend line, directionally, is (INAUDIBLE).

NAUERT: Going in the right direction, and you may not see that being reported a whole heck of a lot of places.

SENOR: No.

NAUERT: So, we're glad to be able to report that tonight. Also, the war in Afghanistan, of course, we're looking at sending in another troop surge into Afghanistan.

SENOR: Yes.

NAUERT: How do you see that as being different from what's happened in Iraq with the troop surge there?

SENOR: Yes, the troop surge in Iraq, I believe, was successful not because so much of the troop surge but because we have change in strategy. We decided to locate our forces in civilian areas and make a commitment to protect the Iraqi civilians so that when they he stepped up to challenge extremists in their own communities, in their own villages, their own provinces, we stood with them. We then surged the troops to back up the strategy, but make no mistake about it, it was a change in strategy first, and then providing sufficient troops to implement it.

NAUERT: Yes.

SENOR: In Afghanistan, they're talking about more troops. It's not clear to me that we have a new strategy. So, it's not that I'm opposed at this point to new troops, but it's important to see a new strategy before we send the troops to back it up.

NAUERT: If the U.S. is sending a bunch of guys and gals to the Kandahar area in the south, which there's been particularly fierce fighting, would that be similar kind of fighting to Baghdad or a different terrain altogether?

SENOR: It really depends on the strategy. If our forces are committed to going into these towns and protecting the civilians who are standing with us, then it is similar. If it's just straight on fighting and doing, you know, clearing of safe havens and al Qaeda safe houses and Taliban safe houses, it's different than what we've been doing over the last few years in Iraq.

NAUERT: All right. Dan Senor, thank you so much.

SENOR: Good to be with you.

NAUERT: And Dan was with the Coalition Provisional Authority, called CPA, back then in 2003.

SENOR: I know, for 15 months in there.

NAUERT: Yes. So, things have changed a lot there.

SENOR: Dramatically.

NAUERT: And it's nice to bring this happy story.

SENOR: It's a very powerful notion. I mean, change is really more than symbolic, it's very dramatic.

NAUERT: All right. Dan Senor, thank you so much. We'll see you soon.

SENOR: Good to be with you.

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