Iraq has introduced legislation allowing the Iraqi authorities to impose martial law; curfews; a ban on demonstrations; the restriction of movement; phone-tapping; the opening of mail; and the freezing of bank accounts.
These laws were announced yesterday by Iyad Allawi, Iraq’s United States-approved prime minister–17 months after the Anglo-American invasion in which President Bush promised to bring democracy to the country.
And, what’s more, military leaders might be appointed to rule parts of the nation, while a temporary reinstatement of Saddam’s death penalty is also now probable.
Already, therefore, Iraq has begun to look just like any other Arab country.
But the insurgency, which the laws are supposedly intended to break, exploded in gunfire in the very centre of Baghdad just as the new legislation was announced.
Incredibly, the fighting broke out in Haifa Street, one of the busiest thoroughfares next to the Tigris River, as gunmen attacked Iraqi police and troops.
US helicopter gunships, at roof-top level, could be seen firing rockets at a building in the street, which burst into flames.
Bullets hissed across the Tigris and at least three soldiers–all believed to be Iraqis–were killed close to the river bank.
Yesterday’s violence in the capital was impossible to avoid. It began with a series of mortar attacks on the walled-off area where government officials live under American protection, with one of the mortars falling close to Allawi’s home–another exploding beside a medical clinic close to his party headquarters.
The explosions echoed over the city. A bomb in a van, packed with shrapnel and artillery shells, was defused close to the government headquarters during the morning.
Many Iraqis might initially welcome the new laws. Security–or rather the lack of it–has been their greatest fear since the American military allowed thousands of looters to ransack Baghdad after last year’s invasion.
They have, anyway, lived under harsh “security” laws for more than two decades under Saddam. But the new legislation might be too late to save Allawi’s “new” Iraq.
For large areas of the country–including at least four major cities–are now in the hands of insurgents.
Hundreds of gunmen are now believed to control Samara north of Baghdad.
Fallujah and Ramadi–where four more US marines were killed on Tuesday–are now virtually autonomous republics.
Bakhityar Amin, Iraq’s new “minister of justice and human rights”–a combination of roles unheard of anywhere else in the world–was chosen to announce the martial law legislation.
“The lives of the Iraqi people are in danger–in danger from evil forces, from gangs and from terrorists,” he said. “We realise this law might restrict some liberties, but there are a number of guarantees. We have tried to guarantee justice and human rights.”
But there, of course, is the rub. Martial law is being introduced by an unelected government in the interests of “democracy”.
And if, as many Iraqis believe, the continued presence of a vast American army lies behind the violence, then US military support for the harsh new laws will only fuel the insurgency.