BEIRUT - So, in the end, America's enemies set the date.
The handover of "full sovereignty" was secretly brought forward so that the ex-CIA intelligence officer who is now premier of Iraq could avoid another bloody offensive by America's enemies.
What was supposed to be the most important date in Iraq's modern history was changed - like a birthday party, because it might rain on Wednesday.
Pitiful is the word that comes to mind.
Here we were, handing "full sovereignty" to the people of Iraq - "full", of course, providing we forget the 160,000 foreign soldiers whom Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has apparently asked to stay on in Iraq, "full" providing we forget the 3,000 US diplomats in Baghdad who will constitute the largest US embassy in the world.
And we never even told the Iraqi people we had changed the date.
Few, save of course for the Iraqis, understood the cruelest paradox of the event.
For it was the new Iraqi Foreign Minister - should we not put his title, too, into quotation marks? - who chose to leak "bringing forward" of "sovereignty in Iraq" at the NATO summit in Turkey.
Thus was this date in modern Iraqi history announced not in Baghdad but in the capital of the former Ottoman empire which once ruled Iraq.
Alice in Wonderland could not have improved on this. The looking glass reflects all the way from Baghdad to Washington. In its savage irony Ibsen might have done justice to the occasion.
After all, what could have been more familiar than Allawi's appeal to Iraqis to fight "the enemies of the people".
Power was ritually handed over in legal documents. The new government was sworn in on the Qur'an. US pro-consul Paul Bremer formally shook hands with the ex-CIA man who is now prime minister and boarded his C130 home, guarded by Special Forces men in shades.
It was difficult to remember that Bremer was touted for his job more than a year ago because he was a "counter-terrorism" expert - this, definitely should be in inverted commas - and that his "dead-enders" managed to turn almost an entire Iraqi population against the US and Britain in just a few months.
According to Allawi yesterday, the "dead-enders'" and the "remnants" belonged to Saddam Hussein.
It had already been made clear that Allawi was pondering martial law, the sine qua non of every Arab dictatorship - this time to be imposed on an Arab state, heaven spare us, by a Western army led by an avowedly Christian government.
Who was the last man to impose martial law on Iraqis? Wasn't it Saddam?
© Star 2004.