A first government under occupation was sworn in yesterday in Iraq as Poland took control of a large chunk of the south and the US decided to seek more UN help to calm the gathering storm.
By the ancient ruins of Babylon, Poland became the third country after the US and Britain to accept official responsibility as an occupying force.
As head of a 21-nation force, Poland assumed control from the US Marine Corps amid pomp and ceremony in the amphitheater of Babylon, built by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on the ruins of the original theater erected by Alexander the Great in 330BC.
"The multinational division has become a first, it was founded with the help of our American friends and thanks to the brave decision by 21 countries," said Poland's Major-General Andrzej Tyszkiewicz.
"Our common focus is to help Iraqi people, and to wipe out the traces of Saddam Hussein's monstrous dictatorship and build a new basis of peaceful existence."
With the handover, the provinces of Karbala and Babil will be under Polish command. Najaf and al-Qadisiyah will be under Spanish control and the province of Wasit will be under Ukrainian command. The areas lie in a zone marked out by the coalition between Baghdad and the southern city of Basra.
In another ceremony in Baghdad, most of the 25 members of Iraq's first post-Saddam Cabinet were sworn in.
They represent Iraq's various communities, with 13 ministries going to Shiite Muslims, five to Sunni Muslims, five to Kurds, one to the Turkmenis and one to the Christians.
"I swear by almighty Allah to do my utmost to serve and protect Iraq, its people, land and sovereignty, and Allah is my witness," said each minister in turn, as they placed their hand on a copy of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.
The Christian representative held a copy of the Bible as he was sworn in.
Eight members of the Cabinet were not able to attend the ceremony for "technical reasons" and were due to be sworn in later, Governing Council member Ibrahim Jafari said.
Each ministry will also continue to be supervised by a coalition-appointed adviser, most of whom are American.
And Paul Bremer, the top US official in Iraq, will retain overall authority until an elected government is in place, scheduled for next year at the earliest.
Bremer, who attended the ceremony, pledged that the interim Cabinet would exercise real control in running the government, even if ultimate sovereignty remained with the US-led occupation.
Many countries around the world have hailed the appointments as a positive step toward restoring Iraq's sovereignty. The Arab League also welcomed it as "a step in the right direction."
However, with the grisly routine of death and destruction continuing, US President George W. Bush agreed to push ahead with a new UN resolution, making it easier for more countries to participate in the stabilization force.
"We have worked out language through the inter-agency process," one senior US official said, adding that a draft of the resolution -- which will more fully define the UN role in postwar Iraq -- would shortly be presented to Security Council members.