(BAGHDAD) In a stunning diplomatic move, the United States has transferred sovereignty of Iraq to a 67-year-old shopkeeper from Baghdad.
"At 0900 hours this morning, the proud citizens of Iraq began a new chapter in their undying quest for freedom," said CPA Director L. Paul Bremer III in a written statement. "We welcome Mr. Al-Hadjari into the world community of democratic leaders and we extend to him our warmest wishes. We are looking forward to working closely with Mr. Al-Hadjari during the coming months and years, as we continue our fight for decency and democracy in the Middle East."
The handover, which came 5 weeks before the June 30th deadline set by President Bush, caught diplomats and US allies by surprise. "We know nothing about this man, or why he has been placed in charge of the country," said UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in a tersely worded statement. Similarly, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, while generally praising the move, admitted he knew little about it. "This is all very good, we suspect," Straw said.
Al-Hadjari, a rag merchant from Sadr City with no formal education or political experience, was apparently chosen at random for the top post. In his first press conference, the awestruck leader gave no immediate indication of his plans for the country.
"This is very excellent luck for me and my family," Al-Hadjari said, speaking through an interpreter. "My country is very large. I will have many places to go as I travel this wonderful land. I love the United States of America. Praise be to Allah."
According to family members, Mr. Al-Hadjari has no plans to give up his old job, though he will probably start shopping for a new house and a car. "He is a very regular guy. I don't think he'll let his good fortune change who he is," said his brother-in-law, Tariq Al-Haq.