BAGHDAD, Iraq – The government said Wednesday it would ban travel between provinces and extend the hours of a curfew as part of heightened security before Iraq's weekend elections.
Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib (search) said security in four tense provinces, where it had been said that elections would be difficult, has improved by 80 percent.
Al-Naqib said the curfew would be extended from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. starting Friday evening until Tuesday. The election of a 275-member National Assembly and provincial legislators is set for Sunday.
During that period, only vehicles with special permits will be allowed to travel between Iraq's 18 provinces.
The government has already announced plans to close Baghdad International Airport and seal Iraq's borders during the election period. Weapons will be banned, and al-Naqib announced rewards for Iraqis who turn in "terrorists."
He said police officers who detain or give information about insurgents or stop car bombs will get special rewards that could be as high as $200,000.
Movement of all unauthorized vehicles will be barred on Sunday. Local police chiefs in different provinces have the right to extend the controls throughout the election period. Gathering outside polling stations will be barred, the minister said.
Insurgents have been attacking polling stations, election workers and candidates to try to disrupt the elections. They have also threatened to launch bloody attacks on voters.
Al-Naqib said the government was determined to hold the elections throughout the country — regardless of the threats.
"We have full confidence that together, based on these measures, we will contribute to the success of the elections and to providing a secure atmosphere for a bigger participation by all the people of Iraq and all areas of our beloved country," al-Naqib said.
He also announced the arrest of a suspected aide to terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), identified as Khamees Mohsen al-Egaily. He is suspected of involvement in explosions and murders.
"The fate of country hinges on the participation of its people to determine its fate. I'll be very surprised if someone such as al-Zarqawi scares Iraqis," he said.
He played down a report by Human Rights Watch (search) that Iraqi security forces are arbitrarily arresting people and systematically torturing and abusing detainees. He acknowledged "some violations at the beginning" but added: "We have put it under control."
"We are forbidding any act of torture or anything else against the prisoners ... there are instructions in the ministry against using any of these techniques," he said.
The Human Rights Watch report said that with a few exceptions, Iraqi authorities have not acted to stop such mistreatment. International police advisers, largely funded by the U.S. government, "have turned a blind eye to these rampant abuses," it said.
"The Iraqi interim government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) ... appears to be actively taking part, or is at least complicit, in these grave violations of fundamental human rights. Nor has the United States, the United Kingdom or other involved governments publicly taken up these issues as a matter of concern," the report said.