Such was the secrecy surrounding the early transfer of authority that a jumpy Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) officials initially asked the assembled journalists not to even report on it until an hour-and-a-half after it was all over.
But once the surprise was over, what had actually changed?
Less than 24 hours after the handover, three US marines were killed in a roadside bomb in Baghdad.
US troops are staying put, but the new prime minister stood before a row of proud Iraqi flags to announce that Saddam Hussein was to appear before an Iraqi judge to be charged for the many atrocities committed under his rule.
Never mind that the Americans helped prepare the podium, that Saddam Hussein will remain under US guard - even if legally he is in Iraqi custody. Mr Allawi announced that the new government had "total sovereignty" over the former dictator.
Symbolism counts in Iraq today, but it won't be enough to satisfy the country's long-suffering people for ever.
By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent
Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 June, 2004
The problems the US has had in occupying Iraq have left the world wondering whether the assertive foreign policy of the Bush administration has reached its limits.
Yet a year on, Iran is still pursuing a policy of developing its own uranium enrichment programme and North Korea has certainly not ended its own nuclear ambitions.
In both cases, the US has pursued diplomacy not war as a means of applying pressure.
Perhaps Libya will be the example to be followed in future.
Libya gave up its weapons development and has been rewarded.
So does the experience of Iraq mean that America got its fingers burned and will be unwilling to put them near the fire again?
Will there be more multilateralism if Mr Bush wins a second term in November?
Or is Washington just keeping its powder dry and does not really care about the fractures in the Western alliance and its unpopularity in the Islamic world?