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Thursday, July 8, 2004
Iraq unveils tough laws
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Iraq unveils tough laws
- Sam Dagher

Iraq's government today granted Prime Minister Iyad Allawi far-reaching powers to declare emergency law as insurgents fired mortars near his home and a gunbattle killed two national guardsmen in Baghdad. Mr Allawi vowed to defeat "foreign criminals" after five people were wounded in the mortar assault and another 21 were hurt in the gunbattle.

The so-called national safety law gives Mr Allawi the right to impose curfews, arrest suspects, ban groups and declare martial law in a bid to end the violence that has killed thousands in Iraq since last year's US-led invasion. The government defended the measure as a vital response to the 14-month-old insurgency, but claimed there were checks on Mr Allawi's powers.

According to a copy of the text given to AFP, the premier has the right to declare an emergency in "any area of Iraq where people face a threat to the lives of its citizens because of some peoples' permanent violent campaign to prevent the creation of a government that represents all Iraqis." The state of emergency cannot exceed 60 days and must be dissolved as soon as the danger has ended.

However,it can be renewed every 30 days, with the approval of the prime minister, the president and vice presidents. The law also grants Mr Allawi the right to ask judges to issue arrest warrants and impose restrictions on the movement of foreigners. In addition, it gives the government the right to open mail and tap telephones, ban political groups, cancel meetings and bar street protests.

Curfews could be imposed for limited periods of time in limited areas, but would require an endorsement from the cabinet, the president and his deputies. Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan and Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin defended the measures, aware that the steps echoed authoritarian rule in Iraq's not too distant past. "The lives of the Iraqi people are endangered by evil forces, by terrorists and gangs," Mr Hassan said.

He lashed out at the insurgency for creating a state of crisis in Iraq, although he said he would rather have waited to pass the law until Iraqi security forces, still in their infancy, were more built up. Amin vowed to monitor the implementation of the law for any potential abuses and said he had "full licence" from Allawi to monitor and investigate any violations to the law. The government is further expected to announce an amnesty for supporters of the insurgency not directly involved in pulling the triggers in attacks.

It is banking that an amnesty for low-level insurgents will drive a wedge into the insurgency, isolating hardcore members of the old regime and suspected foreign fighters from the general population. Just hours before the text was made public, insurgents fired four mortars near Mr Allawi's home, wounding at least five people, according to police and a statement from the prime minister's office. "I am confident all Iraqis will unite to crush these foreign criminals that have illegally entered our country to hinder our progress and delay our development towards a united, safe and developing nation," Mr Allawi said in response.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, a blazing gun battle broke out as insurgents shot at Iraqi national guards and US soldiers, supported by helicopters, just before the announcement of new security laws, witnesses said. Two national guards were killed and 21 wounded, 19 of them guardsmen and the other two police, officials said. The US military said four marines were killed in action on Tuesday in the Al-Anbar province, taking its death toll in the volatile region to 14 in just over one week.

In northern Iraq, five policemen were wounded in drive-by shootings around Kirkuk, while another Iraqi policeman was killed and eight other people wounded in a bomb attack in Mosul. On the economic front, a breach in an aging oil pipeline in the south has been repaired, allowing petroleum exports to reach their regular level of 72,000 barrels per hour, expected to rise to 84,000 barrels per hour, an Iraqi oil official told AFP.

Meanwhile, Mr Amin said one of Saddam Hussein's nephews, Mohammed Barzan al-Tikriti, had been arrested a few months ago along with a Moroccan Jew, George Bin Baki, on the Jordanian border. Mr Amin said another 20 foreigners are being held in the security wing of the Abu Ghraib prison, including five Jordanians, four Saudis, four Syrians, two Yemenis, one Egyptian, one Lebanese, one Palestinian, one Iranian and one Turk. The Saudis had come to fight a holy war, Amin told AFP.

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