By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 7, 2004; 7:34 AM
BAGHDAD, July 7 -- Iraq's interim government announced a new national security law on Wednesday that will allow Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to exercise broad powers of martial rule to combat a persistent insurgency.
The law gives Allawi "extraordinary authorities" to declare curfews, restrict communications, seize assets, restrict civic associations and assume direct command of security forces in areas deemed to be emergency zones. In those places, police and military units would have the freedom to search and detain people without judicial orders.
"The deteriorating security situation requires these laws," Justice Minister Malik Dohan Hassan said at a news conference. "The security situation threatens all fields of life."
As the plan was announced, several suspected insurgents engaged in a rare daytime gun battle with Iraqi and U.S. forces in central Baghdad. Earlier on Wednesday, a volley of mortars landed near a residence used by Allawi and his political party headquarters, injuring four people. Iraqi police also defused a massive car bomb elsewhere in the capital.
Although the law will give Allawi new latitude to combat insurgents, the prime minister had sought even tougher measures, some of which were stripped out of early drafts because of objections from other members of the interim government and from foreign governments, said a senior Iraqi government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity.
The law will restrict the prime minister's power by requiring any declaration of emergency rule to have the consent of the country's president and its two vice presidents. Iraq's highest court also will be able to overturn the declarations.
The country's human rights minister, Baktiar Amin, compared the new Iraqi law to the U.S.A. Patriot Act, the U.S. law enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that gives broader powers to law enforcement authorities in pursuit of suspected terrorists. "Similar laws have been enacted in a number of countries," Amin said.
He said the law, which was approved by Allawi's 32-member cabinet and signed by the prime minister on Tuesday, was necessary because of the "severe dangers that threaten Iraq." Amin said he would monitor implementation of the law closely and would investigate allegations of human-rights violations in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice. "We have tried to guarantee justice and human rights," he said.
The new law is the most significant undertaking by Allawi since his interim government assumed political authority with the departure of U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer on June 28. Allawi has told his advisers and U.S. diplomats that he intends to pursue insurgents with a greater variety of strategies than those employed by the U.S. military.
People close to Allawi have said he wants to rely on a network of intelligence agents and informants to focus military operations on suspected insurgent hideouts instead of conducting neighborhood-wide raids as U.S. forces have done.
Allawi and his advisers regard the new security law as an important tool to implement that strategy. It would allow the interim government to effectively isolate violence-wracked areas by cutting off telephone communications, transportation links and mail; restricting the activities of civic associations, clubs and other organizations; seizing the assets of people accused of participating in the insurgency; and banning public demonstrations.
The national security law will give Allawi the power to take charge of Iraqi security forces in areas under martial law, allowing him effective command of military operations. "The Armed Forces, Emergency Forces, Special Forces, Civil Defense Forces, Internal Security Forces and the Security, Intelligence and Military Intelligence Services in the area where a state of emergency is declared shall report directly to the Prime Minister during the period of the declared state of emergency," the law states.
Allawi also will have the ability, with the approval of the presidency council, to immunize individuals from prosecution and order them released from detention if he believes it would promote stability.
Earlier drafts of the law would have allowed Allawi to declare a state of emergency with a simple majority vote of his cabinet. Under the final version, such a declaration also needs the support of the president and the two vice presidents. A provision to allow for a nationwide state of emergency was deleted from the law.
Declarations of martial law will be valid for 60 days. Any extension will require the written approval of the prime minister and the president.
The country's top court, the Court of Cassation, will have the power to review emergency declarations and rescind them if it deems necessary. "There will be checks and balances on the prime minister's power," said the senior Iraqi official.
The senior official said Allawi's draft was revised after "wide-ranging consultation" with members of the interim government. Among those who sought changes, according to political sources, were ethnic Kurdish leaders and the country's interim president, Ghazi Yawar, a Sunni Muslim tribal sheik.
The interim government is also preparing an amnesty offer to insurgents but terms of the deal have not been finalized, the senior official said. Preliminary drafts, which would have allowed Iraqis who attacked U.S. troops to claim amnesty, have been revised to exclude anybody who was directly involved in serious acts of violence, the senior official said.
"Anyone accused of killings will not be eligible," the official said.
A second senior government official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, described the national security law and the amnesty offer in the same way.
The amnesty, which would provide fighters with a full pardon in exchange for laying down their arms, appears to be aimed more at low-level insurgents than senior leaders. Among those the government hopes to attract are poor Iraqis who have been bankrolled by Baath Party financiers to mount attacks and members of an illegal militia loyal to firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr.
Allawi and top members of his security team hope the offer will bifurcate the insurgency by winning over nationalist Iraqis who have been fighting to evict foreign troops from their country, while isolating foreign Islamic militants who have conducted suicide bomb attacks and assassinations in an attempt to turn Iraq into a battleground for their broader fight against the United States.
"The government feels we need to send a signal that there is an opportunity . . . to drive a wedge between the people committing bad acts," the senior official said.
Although an initial draft of the amnesty offer excluded only those responsible for "killing or raping Iraqis," the exclusions in the new version will be significantly broader, the official said. The change was made after U.S. officials objected, Iraqi political sources said.