Power handed back 48hrs early

Allies to back tough Iraq steps
Bremer (right) said he was confident in the future of Iraq
Hours after the US handed over power in Iraq, the US and UK pledged to back Iraq's government and kill militants responsible for much of the violence.

President George W Bush said US troops would train Iraqis for the job.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said Iraq was a frontline in the battle against terrorism.

An Arabic TV station has broadcast a video which it says shows a US soldier, missing since April, who has been executed by his militant captors.

He was shot dead, al-Jazeera said, but the tape did not show the actual killing.

The station named him as Private Keith Maupin, who was one of a group of Americans seized in April, west of Baghdad.

Apart from a video sent to al-Jazeera a week after his capture, he had not been heard of since then.

The US military has yet to comment on the latest video.

Several explosions were heard in Baghdad late on Monday night - some reportedly close to the US headquarters in the so-called Green Zone - but there were no reports of casualties.

Martial law

"The Iraqi people have their country back" as promised, Mr Bush said outside a summit of 26 countries belonging to Nato, which approved a plan to train Iraqi security forces.

This is a great step for Iraqis who will mobilise all their efforts to rid Iraq from those who aspire to destroy the peace and the security in the country
Mohammed, Baghdad, Iraq

Have Your Say: Reaction to Iraq handover
Handover: Key quotes
Profile: Iyad Allawi

He said the security situation in Iraq was "tough".

Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government had to take strong measures against al-Qaeda suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - described by President Bush as a "brutal cold-blooded killer" - who is said to be behind many anti-coalition attacks.

Asked whether he would allow US troops to assist Iraqis in implementing martial law if the prime minister introduced it, Mr Bush said Iraq had a sovereign government and US troops would train Iraqi forces to go after Zarqawi.

Later US Ambassador John Negroponte arrived in Iraq to head what will become the world's largest embassy.

Mr Blair said the new Iraqi government would abide by human rights in taking tough measures - it would not seek to curb liberties.

"Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are actually there in Iraq now, what is happening in Iraq, the battle in Iraq, the battle for Iraq and its future, if you like, is, in a genuine sense, the front line of the battle against terrorism and the new security threat that we face."

Secretive affair

US administrator Paul Bremer handed over power at a low-key ceremony inside the heavily-guarded Green Zone on Monday - two days ahead of schedule - before flying out of the country.

Mr Bush and Mr Blair - apparently the only leaders at the Nato summit in Istanbul aware that the handover was taking place - exchanged smiles and a brief handshake after consulting their watches.

Iraq's interim prime minister said it was "a historic day".

Will the new authority be legitimate?

In a more colourful ceremony hours later, Mr Allawi and his Cabinet ministers were officially sworn in. But even this oath-taking was held in secret.

After formally taking office, he said the transfer of power was a "massive victory" for the forces of good in Iraq.

"I call on our people to stand united to expel the foreign terrorists who are killing our children and destroying our country," Mr Allawi said in a televised address.

The transfer was widely welcomed - the European Union and the Nato alliance both pledged their support for Mr Allawi's government.

The BBC's world affairs editor John Simpson in Baghdad says bringing the handover forward was a clever tactical move that wrong-footed the Iraqi resistance.

However, he says it actually underlines the US-led coalition's big failure - its inability to stop the violence.

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