Iraq's interim leaders start to talk tough


Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 7

In the span of roughly a week, Iraq's new interim leaders have passed sweeping emergency laws, promised to "crush" troublemakers and use a "very sharp sword" to combat unrepentant insurgents.

The tough talk in tougher times has earned the applause of many Iraqis weary of the tide of violence gripping the country.

Analysts say the pugilistic propaganda is not only intended to intimidate, but also to separate, in the minds of Iraqis, the homegrown insurgents from the foreign fighters.

The latest verbal salvo was fired Monday, when President Ghazi al-Yawer said the government had "a very sharp sword ready for anyone who threatens the security of this country."

"He's using a language that these insurgents understand," said Guity Nashat, an Iraq expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "The sharp sword has worked before in Iraq."

The reference to the sword was not lost on Iraqis. Rooted in Arab tribal traditions, it was aimed at Islamic radicals who have decapitated two foreigners since April and threatened to slaughter several other hostages if coalition forces do not withdraw from the country.

Iraq's interim leaders have repeatedly said such incidents are spearheaded by foreign fighters and have sought to draw a clear line between foreign extremists and Iraqis waging a nationalist uprising.

Days earlier, after insurgents fired mortars that landed near his home, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi vowed that "these criminals will not only fail, they will be crumbled."

Allawi, whose links to the CIA have elicited mixed responses from Iraqis, said that "all Iraqis will unite to crush these foreign criminals."

As it threatens, though, the government also says it plans to offer amnesty for some insurgents, a move analysts and officials say is designed to bring into the political fold groups that have viewed the new leaders as lackeys of the US. Elections are scheduled for January.

These steps "are necessary if they are to restore law and order," said Nashat. "And that security is necessary before you can have democratic elections in Iraq."

The comments earned a grin from many in Baghdad, where car bombings and other attacks have shattered any semblance of a normal life.

"Iraqis can't be ruled without the whip," said Khalid al-Hafith, a 31-year-old cook, adding that the country's history, stretching several centuries, is one of firm, unyielding and, in the case of former president Saddam Hussein, despotic rulers.

"For all our lives we have not tasted freedom. We've wanted it, but we need a strong hand to secure it," said al-Hafith.

Pointing to damaged buildings within sight of Saddam's palace compound, which was used as the headquarters of the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority, he shrugs.

"Look around you, does this looks like security?" he said.

Just days after the June 28 handover of sovereignty, Iraqi officials announced the passage of sweeping emergency laws that allow for extraordinary steps such as curfews and backing up police with paramilitary forces, among other measures. But they were also careful to stress the safeguards against abuse written into the laws, which were announced by both the country's interim justice and human rights ministers.

That move is expected to be supplemented by the issuing of an amnesty to insurgents who have not been implicated in particularly egregious crimes.

The laws give the government legal means to crack down on restive areas, such as Fallujah or Ramadi in the so-called Sunni Triangle.