Iraqi Leader Makes Security His Theme
Government Details Decree on Emergency Rule
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 8, 2004; Page A10
BAGHDAD, July 7 -- Ten days into his seven-month term as Iraq's interim leader, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has displayed a single-minded focus on issues of security.
At his first cabinet meeting, Allawi kept the discussion centered on ways to combat a tenacious insurgency that has racked this nation. His first public appearance after his appointment was at a military recruiting center. His first out-of-town trip was to an Iraqi army base. And his first official order, announced Wednesday, was a new national security decree allowing him to exercise broad powers of martial rule in rebel strongholds.
His next major initiative, according to senior Iraqi officials, will be an offer of amnesty to insurgents if they lay down their arms. Those who do not accept could find themselves targeted by new internal security and intelligence forces being assembled with the prime minister's encouragement.
For Allawi, the country's other challenges -- preparing for national elections, resuscitating the economy, rebuilding infrastructure -- have become subordinate to dealing with a persistent insurgency. Without security, Allawi and his advisers contend, none of the other issues can be addressed.
Taking private cues from U.S. officials and heeding public demands for a harder line, Allawi intends to pursue a variety of new security strategies to bring about, as one senior government official called it, "a uniquely Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem."
"He's not going to do things the ways the Americans did," the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "He's going to restore security in an Iraqi way."
The first indication of Allawi's approach came on Wednesday when his government unveiled details of a national security decree that grants the prime minister "extraordinary authorities" to declare curfews, tap telephones, seize assets, restrict civic associations and assume direct command of security forces in areas deemed to be emergency zones, giving him effective command of Iraqi military operations. In those places, police and military forces would have the freedom to search and detain people without judicial approval.
Allawi also will have the ability, with the approval of the president and two vice presidents, to immunize people from prosecution and order them released from detention if he deems that doing so could promote stability. He can even name his own civilian or military administrator of each emergency zone, supplanting the authority of local officials.
"The deteriorating security situation requires these laws," Allawi's justice minister, Malik Douhan Hasan, said at a news conference. "The security situation threatens all fields of life."
Some Iraqi human rights activists and political rivals of Allawi have questioned the extent of powers that the prime minister will have in areas under martial law, noting that he will be able to circumvent provisions in the country's interim constitution intended to limit his authority and prevent one man from amassing power in the manner of former president Saddam Hussein.
"The law shouldn't be a tool for the government to limit freedoms," warned Muhammed Mousawi, deputy director of the Human Rights Association of Iraq. He expressed concern that Allawi's order, as written, would give the government "the right to repress the peaceful demonstrations and democratic activities" of Iraqis.
But Allawi said the law was "really designed to protect lives in Iraq, whether these lives are Iraqis or are friends of Iraq who are operating here in Iraq. . . . The law is really designed to be part and parcel of the rule of law, and it respects human rights."
The country's human rights minister, Bakhtyar Amin, insisted that the decree, 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."
He compared the decree to the USA Patriot Act, which was enacted after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and increased the authority of law enforcement agencies to conduct surveillance of terrorism suspects and charge them with crimes. "Similar laws have been enacted in a number of countries," Amin said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company