On Iraq's first full day as a sovereign country, assistant bank manager Selwa Solayman said she felt a little more dignity as she counted her customer's money. Taxi driver Mohammad al-Hosseini said he felt more pride as he drove through the city. Finance ministry employee Ma'an Hossein said he felt a little more safe as he walked to work. '[Sovereignty] is the first step of the new Iraq,' Ghazi al-Yawar, the president of the interim government said. 'We're reinstating our country. 'Our country was the first to get its independence in the Middle East. Unfortunately, because of the mishandling by a dictator, this country was taken back hundreds of years. We are a genuine Iraqi government.' On the streets of Baghdad people reacted to the news of the handover with hope and optimism. Over an Iraqi government building inside the Green Zone - the fortress-like, US protected administrative centre of Baghdad - the red, white and black Iraqi flag flew. 'It's like a new birth for Iraq,' said Fawzi Asad, 34, a goldsmith. 'It's like the light at the end of the tunnel. Now we've seen it. God willing, we'll go through the tunnel.' In chic neighbourhoods, residents said they had already seen change on the streets, with Iraqi police making arrests. On Sunday, a squad of police conducted a massive raid on a seedy section of the central bazaar, arresting a gang allegedly involved in gun-running and drugs. 'Before, we felt like we were captive,' said Ali Jassem, owner of a women's clothing store on upscale Karada Street. 'We feel like we have freedom now. This is the day when Iraqis got back their freedom and their power.' Sheikh Salman al-Musawi, a cleric loyal to firebrand preacher Moqtada al-Sadr - the militant Shi'ite leader who has now called for his forces to stop fighting the US - urged his fellow Iraqis to support the new government, to give it the benefit of the doubt. 'This is the day all Iraqi people have waited for,' said Sheikh Musawi. 'We want to stabilise the new Iraq. We ask God to help the new government.' In a dozen interviews all over Baghdad, not one person criticised the new government and Monday's handing over of power. Americans handed the reins to Iraqis in a surprise ceremony two days ahead of schedule. President Yawar said he froze as he was handed the paper declaring Iraqi sovereignty. 'I felt there was a butterfly inside my heart and I felt like I was blushing when they handed me the piece of paper.' Paul Bremer, the US administrator who came to be seen as a symbol of the US occupation's failures, quietly left the country shortly after the handover.