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Iraq: Prime Minister Extends Emergency Laws Ahead Of Late-January Vote

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has extended a state of emergency in Iraq in a bid to give government forces more powers to safeguard the 30 January national and provincial elections from insurgent attacks. Allawi's decision -- which calls into question the legitimacy of the vote -- comes amid continuing violence ahead of the poll. The U.S. military said nine of its troops were killed in separate attacks yesterday, while a number of Iraqi election officials have resigned, reportedly because of the fear of reprisals by insurgents.

Prague, 7 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Prime Minister Allawi has extended emergency laws for another 30 days in a bid to thwart violence ahead of the late-January vote.

The emergency rule was first imposed for 60 days in early November, ahead of a major U.S.-led assault on Al-Fallujah, a former insurgent stronghold.

The emergency laws give the interim government the ability to issue orders usually associated with martial law, including the power to impose curfews, to close borders and airports, and to detain people on suspicion of being part of insurgent groups.

Allawi said that what he called "evil forces" are determined to prevent Iraqis from participating in the political process. He told reporters in Baghdad that more violence should be expected.

"As we build Iraq, we will be targeted more," Allawi said. "The evil forces would like to see us stalling, not progressing in our movement forward."

Dr. Gareth Stansfield is a specialist on Iraq with the U.K.-based Chatham House, formerly known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. While the emergency laws put the legitimacy of the upcoming elections in question, Stansfield said she believes Allawi has no other choice.
"When you have a very widespread insurgency in action, and you also have what is effectively a period of martial law, it is questionable whether you can really call the elections free, fair and legitimate." -- Dr. Gareth Stansfield, a specialist on Iraq with the U.K.-based Chatham House

"When you have a very widespread insurgency in action, and you also have what is effectively a period of martial law, it is questionable whether you can really call the elections free, fair and legitimate," Stansfield said. "But the problem with that is, how else is [Allawi] going to have them? If Allawi doesn't do this, then it really does give the insurgency free rein to do whatever it wants to do. So I think Allawi is caught between two stools, really. He's got to do this, but by doing this he does further delegitimize the election."

In the latest violence, seven U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday evening when their armored vehicle was hit by an explosive on a patrol in northwest Baghdad. Two U.S. Marines were also killed in Al-Anbar Province, west of Baghdad.

It was the deadliest day for U.S. troops since December's suicide bombing at a military base in Mosul. That attack killed 22 people, including 14 U.S. soldiers.

U.S. Lieutenant General Thomas Metz, commander of American ground forces in Iraq, said security remains poor in four of Iraq's 18 provinces. But he said a delay in the 30 January vote would only increase the danger by giving militants more time to intimidate voters and election officials.

Meanwhile, members of Iraq's Electoral Commission have reportedly been resigning out of fear of being targeted by militants.

"Dozens -- as many as hundreds -- of officials have been resigning in different areas of the country," said Kathleen Ridolfo, an RFE/RL regional analyst on Iraq. "These are people who are working for the Electoral Commission at the local level, and they've been resigning as a result of what they call death threats. Not many people have been very specific as to the type of threats, but we know that election officials have been harassed, and they are being targeted by militants, and it is part of the overall scheme or the goal to thwart elections."

Reports say nine election officials have been killed so far in Iraq in the runup to the vote.

At a meeting in Jordan yesterday, Iraq's neighboring countries pledged not to interfere in the elections and urged all Iraqis to vote. The Amman meeting resulted in a joint statement from the foreign ministers of Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Kuwait and a senior Iranian official.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.