SCOTT SIMON, host:
There was a passing of the baton earlier today in Baghdad.
(Soundbite of music)
SIMON: At a ceremony at one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, General David Petraeus formally took over as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Meanwhile, U.S. officials say they've acquired evidence showing that some of the deadliest explosives U.S. forces are facing in Iraq were originally manufactured in Iran.
NPR's Jamie Tarabay joins us from Baghdad. Jamie, thanks for being with us.
JAMIE TARABAY: It's my pleasure.
SIMON: And what did General Petraeus have to say at the handover ceremony?
TARABAY: One word that did come up a lot in his speech was challenging. He said the situation was challenging, that there were substantial challenges ahead. He also stressed the need for Iraqis to share the burden of responsibility. And this is in line with what many U.S. officials have been saying. It's time for the Iraqis to step up, it's time for them to start taking responsibility for the situation.
Petraeus said that the country is doomed to violence and civil strife if they fail. He said it would be hard, but it wasn't hopeless. He called on Iraqis to stand together. But interestingly, about this ceremony, there were many, many military officials from the coalition. We saw English, Romanian, Australian officers there. The Iraqis sent their top generals as well.
The minister of defense was there, the minister of interior was there. But the prime minister did not turn up, and we don't know whether he RSVP-ed and said he couldn't make it or not. We don't know exactly what happened there, but he was not present at the ceremony.
SIMON: So it's hard to know - or had a head cold. It's just hard to know if there was significance to it beyond his absence.
SIMON: Let me ask you about General Casey, the outgoing commander, who made some remarks as well, I understand.
TARABAY: He spoke to reporters before the ceremony and he said that he was very proud of the job that he did. But he also said that he wasn't leaving everything here as he would've liked or expected. And he said he was too close to the situation to be able to judge whether he'd made mistakes.
He said his biggest fear was that the Iraqis wouldn't be able to put the past behind them. He said, you know, we were able - we liberated the Iraqis from tyranny but we cannot liberate them from their prejudices. And just to demonstrate that point, not long after the ceremony ended, there was a suicide bombing in central Baghdad and at least four people were killed in that.
SIMON: Jamie, this handover is coming at a time when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that there is increasingly strong evidence to his mind of Iranian involvement in Iraq. What can you tell us about these reports about explosive devices manufactured in Iran?
TARABAY: Well, when he spoke to reporters, Secretary Gates said that there were markings on these explosives that were pretty good evidence - were the words that he used - that Iranians were supplying either the weaponry or the technology to insurgents in Iraq. He said there might be serial numbers on fragments of these explosives. But he didn't say how those numbers could be traced back to Iran.
Now, American officials have been saying for weeks that they're putting together evidence to show Iran's role in arming, supplying and funding insurgent groups in Iraq. But they've also repeatedly put off news briefings in which they said they were going to present this evidence.
Jamie, thanks very much. NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.