The US-led coalition authority restored sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government Monday two days earlier than scheduled to outflank insurgents threatening to mark the handover with a heightened campaign of violence.
The surprise handover illustrates the damaging impact of the year-old insurgency on efforts to return stability to Iraq and the challenges that lie ahead for its new government.
"This is a historical day," Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said during the handover ceremony. "We feel we are capable of controlling the security situation."
But it will be no easy task to curb an insurgency that has evolved over the past year from classic guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks against coalition troops to a fluid multidimensional campaign against a wide array of targets.
Many analysts expect the violence to worsen in coming months as the insurgents attempt to cripple an untested government. "I have never seen an insurgency that has been successfully defeated in months," says Bruce Hoffman, acting director of the Rand Corporation's Center for Middle East Public Policy. "That's why insurgencies are so attractive to our opponents. Insurgents don't have to win, they just have to avoid losing, and that means they can prolong any conflict they're involved in."
In the past few weeks, militants have struck using numerous methods in a concerted effort to undermine the transfer of power. The attacks have included roadside bomb ambushes, drive-by hijackings and ambushes, kidnappings, mortar and rocket bombardments, suicide car bombings, simultaneous multiple bomb attacks nationwide, sabotage of oil pipelines, shooting at aircraft, and assassinations of government officials and political and religious figures.
Some analysts maintain that the coalition forces - from now on known as the Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF) - failed to appreciate the strategic threat of the insurgency at the onset and have been inconsistent in their response.
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