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Iraq: Government Unveils Tough New Security Law To Crack Down On Insurgents

The government of Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi decreed tough new security measures today. The new security law permits imposing curfews and conducting surprise searches in an effort to crack down on insurgents.

Prague, 7 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's interim government has unveiled new security measures which will give the prime minister power to declare emergency rule in parts of the country if he deems it necessary to combat insurgents.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whose sovereign government officially took office 10 days ago, signed the National Safety Law into force today.

The new security law empowers the government to impose curfews, set up checkpoints, conduct emergency searches without court orders, and ban public demonstrations. Iraqi officials say the measures -- if imposed -- would be temporary and apply only in parts of Iraq. They have not specified in what parts of the country the law could be implemented to crack down on insurgents.

Some Baghdad residents praised the law today shortly after news of its signing.

"The emergency [security] law is necessary to impose security in the country," resident Mehdi Saleh told Reuters. "Security is important for everyone in this country. The emergency law will help decrease attacks on vital installations and civilians and decrease terrorist attacks."

Another resident, Huda Jassim, said: "I support the imposition of the emergency law on condition that it will not restrict people's movements in the street. The new government should take a substantial measure like this to solve the security crisis."

The law includes some safeguards against the prime minister abusing his new powers. Imposing emergency rule would require the consent of the country's president and its two vice presidents, as well as a majority of the 32-member cabinet. Iraq's highest court also will be able to overturn Allawi's martial-law declarations.

Declarations of martial law will be valid for up to 60 days. Any extension would require the written approval of the prime minister and the president.

The unveiling of the new security law had been postponed several times without explanation since its originally scheduled date of the weekend of 3-4 July. Reuters today quoted political sources in Baghdad as saying privately that the delays were to give the government time to resolve differences and consult with U.S. officials.
The law includes some safeguards against the prime minister abusing his new powers.

Allawi's government has said in recent days that it also plans to restore the death penalty, which was waived in Iraq under the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Administration. That would permit executing Saddam Hussein and 11 of his top aides who were arraigned last week if they are convicted of crimes against humanity by a special tribunal. Trial dates for the former regime officials have not yet been set.

The government has also said it is considering a temporary amnesty for rebels who fought the coalition. A spokesman for Allawi, Georges Sada, said on 4 July that "there is still heavy discussion about this."

Talk of an amnesty offer comes as top Iraqi officials have repeatedly called for loyalists of the former regime to give up resistance and join in the new political order. Speaking last week, interim Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati said: "The message of Prime Minister Dr. Iyad Allawi to the Baathists to join the new Iraq and to get jobs rather than to join the terrorists had effect, and we have information that some problems have already emerged between Saddam's loyalists and the terrorist groups from outside Iraq."

But the amnesty offer also appears aimed at insurgents who have no connection to the former regime yet have resisted the U.S. occupation. Foremost among such groups is the Imam Al-Mahdi Army of militants supporting radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr has not directly responded to the talk of amnesty. But one of his spokesmen said two days ago that his party remains committed to a truce it has observed with U.S. troops since last month and that the militia will disband once foreign forces leave Iraq.

An amnesty offer could open the way for members of al-Sadr's group to take part in Iraq's first round of elections in January to form a national assembly.

Previously, Allawi had said that all those belonging to militias -- including the Al-Mahdi Army -- that did not take part in a deal last month to voluntarily disband, would be excluded from holding public office of three years.