BAGHDAD—With little more than two months remaining until the American-led occupation force hands sovereignty to an interim government, Iraqi citizens are joyfully arming themselves in anticipation of independence.
"Saddam is overthrown! Praise Allah! Iraq is ours once more!" Baghdad native Alaa al-Khawaja said, as he busily shoved boxes of 7.62mm ammunition beneath the bed in his two-room home on the outskirts of Baghdad. "Now is the time for all citizens to prepare for our nation's glorious future—a future certain to contain wave after bloody wave of sectarian violence."
"Excuse me, now," al-Khawaja added. "I must barricade these doors and windows with sheet metal before the wonderful day of freedom arrives."
Also readying himself is Thaer Abbas, a Tikrit shopkeeper who sells handmade baskets, earthenware pots, and surplus AK-47s.
"God bless the USA! God bless Bush!" Abbas said. "America has delivered our country back into our hands, and soon, thousands of those hands will be raised in anger as mullahs and imams lead the fight over what little remains."
As the June 30 date for transfer of full authority to the interim government approaches, the dozens of political factions that comprise the liberated nation are readying themselves to assume rule.
"Finally, we will have the opportunity to lead our own nation and decide what is best for our people," said Shi'ite Muslim cleric Namir al-Safy. "Of course, by 'we,' I mean the Shi'ites."
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said he expects a smooth transfer of power, in spite of anti-U.S. violence, widespread unrest, and recent events like the Sunni uprising in Fallujah.
"The Iraqi people deserve their long-sought independence," Rumsfeld said at a Defense Department press conference Monday. "We cannot, in good conscience, postpone the transfer of power. That would be punishing all the good Iraqi people for the actions of a few thousand insurgents, militiamen, suicide bombers, kidnappers, religious zealots, and roving armed bandits."
"Iraqi sovereignty will arrive on June 30," Rumsfeld added. "Citizens of a new free Iraq, this is your final warning: Sovereignty will arrive on June 30."
Even as house-to-house fighting continues in Iraq's urban centers, Iraqi citizens said they applaud U.S. efforts to return their country to them so quickly.
"True Iraqis know that our enemy has never been the U.S.," said Hakmed Butti, a Sunni who has been "saving my joy and weaponry" for the day America returns power to his country. "Our enemy has always been each other. It took an American invasion to teach my people that, but I do not think it is a lesson we will soon forget."
Butti said he plans to observe the day of independence at home with his family, in quiet contemplation and prayer for his life in a fortified bunker he built beneath his house.
Iraqi leaders expressed optimism about the future of democracy in Iraq.
"I am certain that this democracy will be a flash point of social and political change," said one Najaf-based Iraqi cleric who asked that his name and the location of the tanker truck he was loading with diesel-soaked nitrate-based fertilizer not be printed. "My followers and I will visit the new government offices as soon as they open, to make absolutely certain that they get our message. Yes, the capitol building will be at the center of the firestorm, as they say."
Shi'ite leader Dzhan al-Juburi said difficult days are ahead, but that the people of Iraq are "not strangers to challenge."
"The path to re-deconstructing Iraq will not be easy," al-Juburi said. "But if we remember to draw on the strength of our people and their massive stockpiles of automatic weapons, then, Allah willing, we will turn Iraq into the country it once was in no time at all."