LONDON – World leaders Monday hailed Iraq's new sovereignty, even as many of Baghdad's Arab neighbors said the United States remained in control with its 140,000 troops shielding the new government from assassins and insurgents.
L. Paul Bremer (search), the former U.S. administrator of the 13-month American occupation, secretly moved the transfer of authority ahead by two days, foiling — if only temporarily — feared militant attacks that would have left a stain on the American ceremony.
Sitting next to President Bush at a NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey, Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) said sovereignty was "an important staging post on the journey of the people of Iraq toward a new future."
Few expected the handover would bring a quick end to the violence that has plagued Iraq, with thousands killed in brutal car bombings and other violence since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein on April 9, 2003.
And both supporters and opponents of last year's invasion agreed Iraq would need international help for years.
"We have a common responsibility to support Iraq on its road to democracy," said Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds (search).
She pledged that her country, which opposed the war in Iraq, and the European Union, which was bitterly divided over it, would "support the movement toward a secure, stable, united, prosperous and democratic Iraq."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, an outspoken opponent of the U.S.-led invasion, sent congratulations. In a telegram, Schroeder wished Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (search) "every possible success" and offered Germany's "trusting collaboration."
Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah said he hoped the transfer would "lay the foundations of security and stability. We pray that they will be successful,"
But many in the Muslim world were skeptical.
"Occupation will wear a new dress," said Syrian political analyst Haitham Kilani.
Senior Syrian Information Ministry official Ahmad Haj Ali said the Iraqi government should expel coalition forces.
Jordan's King Abdullah II was more positive, however, saying the transfer of sovereignty was a "landmark in history of Iraq." He said Jordan would help its neighbor "regain its position as an independent and democratic nation enjoying freedom and prosperity." Jordan is dependent on Iraqi oil.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said in Cairo he hoped the interim government would be able to "exercise its sovereignty and power in a way that will bring it legitimacy."
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, said it was pleased by the handover but uncertain about the country's future.
"We need to observe how things materialize on the ground," said Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa.
Yet many prominent opponents of the war saw the development as good news.
Catherine Colonna, a spokeswoman for French President Jacques Chirac, called it "a step in the political process that continues up to 2005. Others must follow, and France expresses its wish for success to the interim government and the Iraqi people."
Russia, another war opponent, also pledged to work with the new government, saying its success would depend on winning the people's trust. Iraq owes Russia billions from Soviet times.
China congratulated Iraqis and said it hoped their country would be "independent, peaceful and prosperous."
Former chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, who has strongly criticized the U.S. decision to attack before his teams finished searching Iraq for banned weapons, welcomed the move.
"It's an important day and one in a necessary direction," he said in Vienna, Austria.
Backers of the invasion hailed the news and pledged to continue efforts to stabilize Iraq.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Rome "feels even more the moral duty to support the brave Iraqi government in its efforts for democracy, security and for the social and economic reconstruction of the country."
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who contributed troops to the invasion, congratulated Iraq's people "for the act of faith in a democratic future that is involved in this historic handover."
Australia's 850 soldiers will stay in Iraq unless the new government asks them to leave, Howard said, calling such a request unlikely.
Janusz Zemke, deputy defense minister in Poland, another strong U.S. supporter, told The Associated Press the Iraqi government's assumption of power was "very good" news.
The European Union said it was considering posting a special representative in Baghdad and would offer support to elections scheduled for January.
"We want to establish contact with the new government as soon as possible," said EU spokeswoman Cristina Gallach.