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.
Amin said he would closely monitor implementation of the decree and would investigate allegations of human rights violations in conjunction with the Justice Ministry. "We have tried to guarantee justice and human rights," he said.
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.
Although the law gives Allawi new tools to combat insurgents, the prime minister had sought more aggressive measures, some of which were objected to by other members of the interim government. Instead of granting Allawi sole discretion to decide when and where to declare an emergency, the order restricts 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.
The ability of Iraq's security forces to actually enforce martial law remains unclear. The Iraqi army had only 4,000 soldiers on duty as of June 15. Of the 89,000 police officers on duty, only 5,700 have been trained in a U.S.-supervised academy. Many of them lack weapons, vehicles, radios and flak vests. Their willingness to fight fellow Iraqis also remains in doubt: In several recent incidents, police officers have either refused to restore order or have deserted their posts.
Allawi and his senior military advisers hope that the attitude of the security forces will change now that an Iraqi interim government is in charge. "They are going to be fighting for Iraq, not the Americans," a senior official in the Defense Ministry said.
In case added firepower is needed, the security order promulgated Wednesday gives Allawi the power to call on U.S.-led multinational forces. There are currently about 160,000 foreign troops in Iraq.
Allawi's intent is for Iraq to be as self-sufficient as possible. A new army unit called the Iraqi Intervention Force, composed of new soldiers who have volunteered for domestic counterinsurgency operations, has started to deploy its first battalion in southern Baghdad's Abu Deshir district. Another battalion is expected to be deployed in the next few weeks. Because the soldiers have volunteered for domestic missions, U.S. and Iraqi military officials hope to avoid a repeat of the near-mutiny that occurred in April when an army battalion refused to flight alongside U.S. Marines in Fallujah.
Allawi also wants to form an Iraqi Special Operations Force, a unit with 760 troops that would function as a counter-terrorist SWAT team. In addition, he wants to create a commando battalion of about 800 Iraqi soldiers that would be similar to the U.S. Army Rangers.
The prime minister has held discussions with U.S. officials about reorganizing the Iraqi National Guard, a 70,000-member paramilitary force formerly known as the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.
The new force would have 18 brigades, one for each province, with six divisional headquarters, one for each of the foreign military divisions now serving in Iraq. The division headquarters, Allawi recently told Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, would present "an opportunity to bring back officers from the old Iraqi army who are clean and who are committed to a new Iraq."
Allawi also thought this would reduce "potential sources of dissatisfaction among the former officers that the enemy can feed off of," Wolfowitz said during a June 25 appearance on Capitol Hill. Allawi's recurrent theme, according to Wolfowitz, "was the importance of the Iraqi army as a symbol of national strength" and that it was a mistake to have disbanded the old army.
Allawi was not the first choice of Pentagon civilians for the role of running Iraq after the war. Allawi was a CIA client; the Pentagon had until recently supported Ahmed Chalabi, another former exile who served with Allawi on the now-disbanded Iraqi Governing Council.
The Pentagon was partial to Chalabi's entreaties that the United States had to disband the Baath Party, run by Hussein, and the Iraqi army. That step ran counter to the plans of the CIA, which had used Allawi and his exile group to try to persuade Iraqi generals to keep their troops from fighting when the United States invaded. CIA analysts viewed the Iraqi army as a nationalist force necessary to keep the peace and hold the country together after the war.
Allawi is now using the military as a foundation for establishing security and for strengthening his political base. Allawi's rise to power also means the CIA has returned to a more central role in shaping security policy in Iraq.
The CIA would not comment on whether its past financial support for Allawi's party has continued. A senior intelligence official would say only that "the U.S. is known to support a wide variety of organizations that support democracy."
Pincus reported from Washington.