BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi voices filled the airwaves of the nation's first independent talk radio station Monday, applauding a surprise move by the U.S.-led coalition to return sovereignty to Iraq two days early.
The callers clogged Radio Dijla's telephone lines to congratulate interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (search), urging him to be strong, while warning insurgents against continued violence.
"I send my congratulations to all Iraqis and every Iraqi home," a woman who identified herself as Um Yassin gushed, her voice choked with emotion. "I want to tell Dr. Allawi to be bold, to be strong. We need him to build up the army because we need them at a time like this."
Her message was echoed by dozens on the day Prime Minister Allawi was given a letter transferring sovereignty back to the citizens of Iraq after about 14 months of coalition administration.
But in the midst of adulation for the new government, callers urged that all must be vigilant for insurgents seeking to sow more chaos in a country plagued by violence since Saddam Hussein's (search) regime was toppled.
"I send all the Iraqi people my blessings," said Ali, a caller from Baghdad (search). "But I warn these terrorists, all the Iraqis will rise up and strike them with steel."
With that threat, the station switched to an upbeat song by a Lebanese singer.
"People have been calling in all day, sending their greetings to the new government," said Ahmed al-Rikabi, who founded Radio Dijla about two months after working for years with broadcasters in Europe. "There is a feeling of joy among the listeners. But they are also expressing hope that the day will pass with no problems and no explosions."
"But we've also had calls from people pleading with the terrorists to let Iraqis live this day in peace."
Until well into the afternoon, the car bombings, insurgent attacks on police and government buildings and coalition forces that have become synonymous with daily life in post-Saddam Iraq were conspicuously absent. But the memory of past attacks were still fresh in listeners' memories.
On Baghdad FM, another channel that also hosts callers as well as music, Um Ali, a woman from Hillah, recalled the twin car bombings that struck the heart of her city Saturday night. The blasts claimed 17 lives in the predominantly Shiite city 60 miles south of the capital and injured about 40 others.
"It was nothing short of murder," she said. "Nobody wants any more incidents like this."
Callers to both stations also used the opportunity to stress that all Iraqis -- Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians -- should stand together in the face of the challenges the country is likely to face in the coming months.
"I say to our new government that everyone here is one," said Layla, calling in from the northern city of Kirkuk, where ethnic tensions have flared among the Arab, Kurdish and Turkomen populations.