NEW YORK – Sovereignty has been turned over to the interim government in Iraq -- but the nation remains a hotbed of terrorist activity, and its security situation is far from settled.
Some Iraqi officials say that imposing martial law (search) would enable them to get the upper hand over the insurgents who have been trying to derail democracy.
"I think the Iraqis understand the best way to find the terrorists is go on the offense and find the killers before they kill," President Bush said in Istanbul Monday in an address with British Prime Minister Tony Blair after the handover of sovereignty. "And we'll support and we'll help him," Bush said, referring to Iraqi's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi (search).
Allawi said earlier this month that martial law might be imposed to cope with the security issues plaguing Iraq, such as kidnapping, bombings and beheadings.
"One of those issues is that we might impose some kind of martial law in some places, if necessary, in accordance with the law and in respect to the human rights and the international law," he said.
Allawi said Saturday that the government was considering law "that we are calling the defense of public safety" that would "empower the government to take action to defend its people."
"It wouldn't be martial law," he said. But it would allow the Iraqi government to "take actions and measures against criminals, apprehend them, question them ... and impose curfews."
After 35 people were killed in a car bombing in Baghdad soon after that, the interim interior minister, Falah al-Nakib, said, "if we need to do it, yes, we'll do it. We won't hesitate … this is the security of our country. This is the security and life of our people."
Martial law is defined as temporary rule by the military over the civilian population when civil authority has broken down.
Iraqi officials haven't said anything about the martial law's timing or scope, but they have indicated they would declare a state of emergency if martial law is imposed. Emergency measures could include a curfew, checkpoints and a ban on public demonstrations for Baghdad and various provinces that have been hotbeds of violence.
Guerrilla attacks and violence being driven by Al Qaeda-linked terrorists, foreign fighters and foreign regime loyalists have increased in recent weeks as the originally scheduled June 30 handover date neared. Many of the attacks are thought to be the work of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), an Al Qaeda-linked Jordanian terrorist who claimed responsibility for the decapitation deaths of American businessman Nicholas Berg (search) and South Korean translator Kim Sun-il (search).
Former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger told Fox News on Monday that he thinks martial law "is probably justified," given all the attacks on Americans and others.
"The main question I have is how much authority are we going to have to take the military measures necessary to help the new Iraqi government," he added.
Iraqi Forces Must Deal With the 'Thugs'
In the post-handover press conference with Blair during the NATO conference in Istanbul on Monday, Bush hailed Allawi as a leader who will do what it takes to bring safety and security to the country, while not infringing upon the rights of innocent Iraqis.
"Every conversation I've had with him has been one that recognizes human liberty, human rights — he's a man who's willing to risk his life for a democratic future of Iraq," Bush said.
"He may take tough security measures to deal with Zarqawi, but you'd have to — Zarqawi's a guy that beheads people on TV — he's the guy that orders suiciders to kill women and children.
"Mr. Allawi's going to have to take some tough measures to deal with a brutal, cold-blooded killer," Bush continued. "Our job is to help Iraqi forces deal with these thugs. It's tough, there's no question about it … they can't whip our militaries ... what they can do is get on our TV screens and cut somebody's head off to get us to cringe and retreat — that's their strongest weapons" … but "he [Allawi] will not cower in the face of such brutal murder and neither will we."
Blair echoed that sentiment, saying, "undoubtedly, the new Iraqi government will take new security measures -- they have to," but added that civil liberties will not be negated with the installment of martial law.
"It's not going to be about taking away people's freedoms, it's going to be about allowing those freedoms to happen," Blair said. "They're [government] not getting after them [terrorists], hunting them down in defiance of basic freedom but in order to help basic freedom … the reason they're trying to stop the terrorists is so democracy and freedom can flourish in Iraq."
Martial Law Would Cause 'Such Trouble'
Ret. Army Col. David Hunt, a Fox News military analyst, said there's only one advantage to installing martial law: "It can isolate the bad guys."
Under this law, he said, "the military's not answering to a civilian authority," as it does in the United States and has been in Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority. "Allegedly, the military is then free to act quickly without restrictions to catch bad guys -- in this case, terrorists."
But the disadvantage "is much ... larger," Hunt noted.
The United States just opened the largest embassy in the world in Iraq and a historic transfer of power to a new and fledgling government has taken place. If "the first big decision they make is to put the U.S. and Brits in charge of the country … martial law has got to be the last thing they want to do … it would cause such trouble," Hunt said.
Sen. Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently voiced concerns that U.S. forces could be dragged into enforcing the law if Iraqi troops aren't strong enough.
"I'm not so crazy about this," Biden said in a television interview.
"You can put the Fox News security detachment in Iraq and it would be better than the Iraqi military," Hunt agreed.
What could alleviate the need for martial law, however, is bringing back military commanders from the Saddam Hussein era.
Allawi has said he will try to get former military leaders back on the payroll so long as they're committed to helping rebuild Iraq and aren't loyal to former dictator Saddam Hussein. These groups of military men would enlarge the overall army while creating police and paramilitary units focused on controlling riots and fighting guerrillas.
"They are trying to destroy our country and we are not going to allow this," Allawi said recently.
"One of the biggest mistakes we made" was getting rid of the previous military leaders, Hunt said. "I'm absolutely in favor of bringing people back who have been vetted and [whose] backgrounds have been checked, because Iraqis need leadership now in their military."