Baghdad, Iraq — Iraq unveiled emergency laws Wednesday to fight the enduring insurgency, even as masked gunmen battled Iraqi and U.S. forces in Baghdad. The measures give the government broad powers -- including the right to impose limited martial law.
The laws also allow Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to set curfews, send security forces on searches and freeze suspects' assets and monitor their communications. He can also assign military leaders to run restive areas.
Government officials insist built-in checks will protect Iraqis' rights and prevent the government from backsliding into dictatorship.
That was not much of a concern for some Baghdad residents. "Borrowing Saddam Hussein's big stick for a short period of time is fine if it's for the interest of the people," said pharmacist Salaheddin Hadi.
Allawi, a secular Shiite with close CIA links, can only invoke his new powers with the unanimous approval of the Presidential Council made up of the president, who is a Sunni Arab, and two vice presidents, a Kurd and a Shiite.
The laws are the first major step by Allawi's government to make good on its promise to end the violence that has killed hundreds of Iraqis over the past 15 months.
"The law ... is really designed to protect lives in Iraq, whether these lives are Iraqis or friends of Iraq," Allawi said. "We will use the law ... whenever it is necessary to defeat our enemies."
Less than a mile away, a daylight gunbattle between Iraqi security forces and insurgents raged for hours in the streets of central Baghdad. Officials said four people were killed.
Also Wednesday, four explosions shook another neighborhood near the headquarters of Allawi's political party, wounding six people, the Interior Ministry reported. The neighborhood hit by the explosions is also home to one of Allawi's residences. He was not there at the time.