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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Iraq brings in tough security law
Iraqi police at scene of bombing on 30 June
The Iraqi public is keen for tough action on security
The Iraqi government has announced a law allowing it to impose martial law in troubled regions.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi signed the National Safety Law giving the government the power to impose curfews, set up checkpoints and detain suspects.

But the measures can only be applied locally, not nationally, and for no longer than 60 days.

There has been no let-up in violence, with street fighting and mortar attacks on buildings in central Baghdad.

The new law comes into force as insurgents increasingly target Iraqis.

Two US-based think tanks estimate that as of 16 June, more than 11,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed by coalition action and militant attacks during and since the March 2003 war.

Officials announced that Mr Allawi is to travel to Brussels next week to discuss how the European Union can help in rebuilding Iraq, in his first official overseas visit since sovereignty was returned to Iraq at the end of June.

Brussels also has the headquarters of Nato, which has offered to help train Iraqi security forces.

'Guarantees'

Correspondents say that while the US-led coalition is already able to impose tough security measures, the law will give the new authorities a legal shield as they fight insurgents.

The lives of the Iraqi people are in danger, they are in danger from evil forces, from gangs of terrorists
Bakhtiyar Amin
Human Rights Minister

An interior ministry official told the BBC there had been extensive discussions during the drafting to avoid what he called "undue infringement of human rights".

"We realise that this law might restrict some liberties, but there are a number of guarantees within this law for the rights of people," said Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan, as the law was announced at a news conference.

These include a clause saying clearly that Mr Allawi cannot use his powers to delay elections, scheduled to take place no later than January next year.

The law also makes special provision for Kurdistan, where martial law cannot be imposed without regional officials being consulted.

BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says there can nevertheless be no doubt that Mr Allawi is giving himself sweeping powers.

Iraqi officials introducing the new law said people should be protected in the current climate of violence.

'Patriot Act'

"The lives of the Iraqi people are in danger, they are in danger from evil forces, from gangs of terrorists," said Human Rights Minister Bakhtiyar Amin.

Mr Amin described the law as being similar to the controversial US anti-terror Patriot Act.

Our correspondent says that if the measures lead to human rights abuses that would certainly alienate many Iraqis.

But for the moment, he says, it looks as if most Iraqis are ready to give the prime minister a chance.

Interim President Sheikh Ghazi Yawer and other officials have signed the law.

Its key points include:

  • The government can impose curfews in violence-hit areas, but only in individual areas of the country and not nationwide.

  • It can conduct cordon and search operations and arrest individuals, particularly those found to be in possession of weapons.

  • It can intercept mail and eavesdrop on telephone conversations.

  • The government should state its reasons for declaring an emergency and specify the area where it is to be applied. It should also make the public aware of when the measures start and their duration.

  • The period of the emergency should not exceed 60 days, and should be terminated if the reason for imposing it ceases to exist. The emergency will be subject to renewal after 30 days.

  • The prime minister is given the right to assign governors, including military leaders, to be in charge of specific areas.

Mr Hassan said the US-led coalition could help enforce the new law if the government requested it, but this would only happen in exceptional circumstances.

The justice minister also showed journalists a list of foreign fighters arrested during the insurgency.

All the fighters were "regrettably" Arabs, he said.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"Many Iraqis agree that tough measures are needed"



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