updated 6/28/2004 4:28:11 PM ET 2004-06-28T20:28:11

World leaders welcomed the surprise early handover of power in Iraq Monday, but few expected it would put a quick end to spiraling violence.

Both supporters and opponents of the war hailed the transfer of sovereignty and said they wished the new interim Iraqi administration well as it faces the major challenges ahead.

“This is very good,” Poland’s Deputy Defense Minister Janusz Zemke told The Associated Press. “Everything that accelerates the process of transfer of power to the Iraqis, that speeds up their taking of responsibility, is very good.”

Poland was a strong supporter of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, commanding a multinational stabilization force in the south-central part of the country.

Catherine Colonna, a spokeswoman for Jacques Chirac, said the French president — an ardent opponent of the invasion and outspoken critic of America’s handling of postwar Iraq — had learned only Monday morning that the transfer had been moved up two days. It was originally scheduled for Wednesday.

“The transfer of sovereignty is a highly awaited and important event,” Colonna said. “It’s 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.”

Germany, another staunch opponent of the war, also said it was pleased with the early transfer, saying the change in timing didn’t matter much but the fact of Iraqi control was crucial.

“We welcome the transfer of sovereignty that took place today,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Antje Leendertse said. “For Iraq, this is an important step on the road back into the community of independent nations.”

The German government is ready “to work closely together with the new Iraqi government on the political and economic reconstruction of the country,” Leendertse said.

EU special representative?
The European Union said it was considering posting a special representative in Baghdad and would offer support to elections scheduled there early next year.

“We want to establish contact with the new government as soon as possible,” said EU spokeswoman Cristina Gallach.

The Philippines, a strong supporter of Washington which has sent about 50 troops and police to Iraq, congratulated the Iraqis on the handover.

“We laud the restoration of the democratic process in Iraq,” presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said in a statement. “We join the Iraqi people in their yearning for peace.”

In Jordan’s Iraqi community, there was skepticism the Iraqi people would get any real benefit. But Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khader said the handover raised hope for an end to foreign forces’ occupation of Iraq and for stability to the war-ravaged country.

“Jordan welcomes this development and considers it a step toward rebuilding political, economic, security and social institutions in Iraq,” Khader told the AP.

One analyst said the early handover would give a big boost to Iraq’s government but raised a set of huge questions for the future — most importantly whether the incoming administration will be able to control the violence-torn nation.

“It doesn’t answer some of the fundamental questions,” said Jonathan Eyal, of the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London. “Whether this is a real government really in charge of the country still remains to be answered.”

Skepticism in Moscow
Russian military analyst Vladimir Slyuchenko told Radio Ekho Moskvy that the handover wouldn’t change anything.

“The Americans will still stay there a long time because explosions, sabotage and terrorist attacks in Iraq will continue,” he said.

During the run-up to elections expected next year, “the United States will be present and will suffer great losses, but they are relieving themselves of responsibility,” he said.

Syrian political analyst Haitham Kilani said things wouldn’t change in Iraq until American and British forces leave.

“Occupation will wear a new dress,” he said, adding that the “national Iraqi resistance” would likely increase.

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