The much-anticipated National Safety Law enables the government to impose emergency measures such as curfews, searches and detentions in some areas for periods of up to 60 days with the Presidential Council’s unanimous approval, according to Reuters.
The Presidential Council represents the three major groups in Iraq and is made up of a president, who is Sunni Arab, and two vice presidents — a Kurd and a Shiite.
Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan said interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi would need warrants from an Iraqi court for each step and said martial law could only be declared for 60 days or for the duration of the specific violence, whichever was shorter.
“We realize this law might restrict some liberties, but there are a number of guarantees,” al-Hassan said, according to the Associated Press. “We have tried to guarantee justice and also to guarantee human rights.”
The law is needed to combat insurgents who are “preventing government employees from attending their jobs, preventing foreign workers from entering the country to help rebuild Iraq and in general trying to derail general elections,” he said.
The new law also gives Allawi the right to assign governors, including military leaders, in specific areas, and to freeze the assets of suspects and monitor their communications, the AP reported.
As Allawi signed the law, violence continued in central Baghdad, where insurgents engaged in a gunbattle with Iraqi forces in the streets near Martyrs’ Square, the Interior Ministry said.
Health Ministry official Saad al-Amili said four people were killed and 20 injured in the battle.
U.S. armored personnel carriers moved to the scene of the fighting as two Apache helicopters hovered overhead. Interior Ministry officials said the helicopters fired on nearby buildings.
In another neighborhood of central Baghdad, four mortar rounds exploded near the headquarters of Allawi’s political party, wounding six people, the Interior Ministry said.
Also Wednesday, Iraqi police defused a car loaded with 1,650 pounds of explosives parked near the al-Iman mosque in the Karada neighborhood in downtown Baghdad, police Col. Adnan Hussein said, according to the AP.