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Transfer of power brings few visible changes to Green Zone

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Inside the fortress-like American compound in Baghdad known as the Green Zone, Iraqi independence mostly meant ordering new business cards and ID badges Tuesday.

The formal end of the occupation Monday trickled into the minutiae of life in the Green Zone, but didn't bring any sweeping change to the suburban feel of the place. Women in tight shorts jogged in the blazing sun Tuesday, and fried pork rinds were still for sale in Saddam Hussein's former palace —without a hint that these vestiges of U.S. rule might offend the country's Muslim leaders.

L. Paul Bremer, the former American civilian administrator for Iraq, no longer plodded through palace halls in business suits and desert boots. Dozens of other occupation officials likewise packed for home, their jobs either finished or handed over to Iraqi counterparts. With the political transformation complete, the new U.S. Embassy will focus on reconstruction, with thousands of Americans remaining in Iraq to oversee projects and advise the new government.

The hand-over didn't work magic, many said, but they felt a difference.

"The coolest thing is when Iraqis come and say, `Hey, Brendan, we need a letter from you for this.' Now I say, `No, you don't. You can do it yourself,'" said Brendan Lund, a Massachusetts native who's working with the Finance Ministry in the Green Zone.

For example, Lund and his co-workers used to have signatory power over massive cash transfers for Iraqi banks. With Iraqis now overseeing ministry salaries and reconstruction funds, Lund said, he can "only ask very politely for the Iraqis to give us their money."

Outside the Green Zone commissary, the American legacy was firmly planted in a group of disheveled, sweaty Iraqi children who mimicked U.S. soldiers in halting English they picked up from selling bootlegged DVDs and chewing tobacco on base.

"Get the (expletive) out of my face!" the kids yelled, giggling.

At the back of the shop, an enterprising vendor had ordered 100 polo shirts with the logo of the former Coalition Provisional Authority to hawk as souvenirs to American officials departing this month. Martin Daniel, a Christian Iraqi, said he'd sold about eight shirts Tuesday morning, but didn't plan to buy one himself.

"No way," he said. "I'm Iraqi. This is not for me."

The alphabet soup of American acronyms also didn't change. The CPA simply became IRMO, the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office. Throughout the Green Zone, American workers switched computer screen savers to the new name Tuesday and signed vouchers as "IRMO" instead of "CPA" when they filled up their gas tanks, passed through the lunch line or visited the clinic.

"IRMO, what is that?" one young American contractor asked. "Like, Tickle Me IRMO?"

In one of the offices, a man wearing a contractor's badge patiently explained the change to confused colleagues: "What was CPA yesterday is IRMO today. That's it."

In the palace's vast dining hall, uniformed and civilian Americans leafed through the latest copy of Stars and Stripes, the newspaper published for the U.S. military, which featured the big, bold-faced headline: "Iraqis now in charge."

For a 28-year-old Connecticut contractor, the news means he goes home in less than a month. No more trailer with a roommate. No more "feng shui Baghdad-style," as his friends called the familiar process of arranging bedroom furniture to avoid flying debris from attacks.

"Their whole lives, Iraqis had their decisions handed down from the top, and now they have the authority in their own hands," said the man, who declined to give his name for security reasons. "But it's sad to see the CPA go away. I hope we made some kind of difference."


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.