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Iraq: New Security Measures Meet With Support, Concern Persists Over Possible Abuses

New security measures approved by Baghdad are being welcomed by many ordinary Iraqis, who are tired of the unending violence in the country. However, some fear the new laws might lead to the abuse of power and human rights violations.

Baghdad, 9 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- "We agree with any kind of procedures they take for the sake of security. We agree because Iraqis want only security -- nothing more."

Walid Hassen is an engineer from Baghdad. Like most Iraqis, he is tired of violence and kidnappings and applauds any measures that could contribute to stability and peace.

Last week, Iraq enacted new security laws that the government hopes will do just that. The measures give Iraqi officials the right to declare emergencies and impose martial law, ban political groups, impose curfews, open mail, and monitor telephones, bar demonstrations and restrict the movement of foreigners.
"The power given to [Prime Minister] Iyad Allawi should be within the boundaries of international law, and he should never be outside the powers he has as the prime minister."

The new measures are designed to protect innocent people and help defeat the ongoing insurgency. Today in Iraq, militants are threatening to kill two Bulgarians and one Filipino taken hostage. Yesterday, five U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi guards were killed in a mortar attack in the city of Samarra. Another U.S. soldier died in Baghdad when armed men attacked his patrol.

Hassen says such attacks in Baghdad indicate only one thing -- urgent steps should be taken immediately. He says he hopes the government will not abuse the new rights it enjoys.

"Let's be optimistic. Let's say with God's will, we will go forward and see what will happen in the future. But we will say, we need security, security, security, and nothing more," Hassen says.

He says it is difficult for him to speak about the preservation of human rights during a time when any member of his family might be killed in the random violence.

"Let them implement what they want," Hassen says. "We need to end the violence, and we will support anything they will do seeking this result." He says a person first has to be alive to enjoy such rights.

The president of the Iraqi Lawyers Association, Thea'aa al-Sadi, says the government needs special rights and laws because the country is in a special situation. He says the emergency laws do not give Prime Minister Iyad Allawi any absolute rights. Practically, he is allowed to implement the new measures only with the approval of the cabinet.

"This law is an effort to deal with the present unstable security situation and does not pave the way to dictatorship," says al-Sadi.

However, he says care must be taken to ensure that the new security measures do not violate the rights of citizens. He says violating human rights was the usual practice of the former regime of Saddam Hussein and that such practices could reappear -- especially when it comes to curfews or travel restrictions or random arrests -- without due vigilance.

Al-Sadi says he is especially concerned that the rights of Iraq's nongovernmental associations might be threatened.

"We are concerned that restrictions will be imposed on civilian organizations, and this could include associations. These groups should play a big role in rebuilding the Iraqi state, especially at this stage, when the Iraqis are on the verge of elections. What we want is to give [associations] full freedom to express their points of view," says Al-Sadi.

He says violating basic human rights through Iraq's delicate transition period could have disastrous consequences for the future of democracy in the country.

"That's why we are afraid of special laws in Iraq. Honestly, we have the fear of any special restrictions of freedom because every special power for sure will conflict with human rights," al-Sadi says.

Al-Sadi also says security measures alone cannot stabilize the country. He says that is especially true now, when the structures imposing these measures -- the police and the army -- are still very weak themselves.

"The security law is not the only means to ensure peace," al-Sadi says. "They might lay some legal foundations and indicate how the security structures have to act. But these measures are not enough. The Iraqi state should rebuild the army, police, and ministries, and only then will the country be stable."

Sa'ad, a computer programmer in Baghdad, says he is concerned the new security measures will only tighten the grip on power now enjoyed by Allawi and the other members of the interim government.

He says international laws and human rights should have top priority in Iraq and that the interim government should not transgress them.

"The power given to [Prime Minister] Iyad Allawi should be within the boundaries of international law, and he should never be outside the powers he has as the prime minister. As we see, prime ministers all over the world have a role to play -- a very active role -- but they do not go over their powers and overstep the presidency," Sa'ad says.

Sa'ad says he is "personally concerned that Iyad Allawi might take advantage of the special position the emergency law gives him and might use the new powers to increase his personal authority as the country draws closer to elections."

Sa'ad believes Allawi is being given a free hand to restore the security structures abused by Saddam.

"They might be under a different name," he says, "but the essence will remain the same -- to suppress political opponents."

Sa'ad says it is strange that many Iraqis who complained that their rights were being violated under Saddam are now willing to relinquish them to anyone who promises security.