Baghdad, Nov. 7 (Reuters): Iraq's interim government declared a state of emergency for 60 days today ahead of January elections amid spiralling insurgent attacks that have killed 60 Iraqis in two days.
The state of emergency, equivalent to martial law, takes effect immediately throughout Iraq, except the Kurdish north, a spokesperson for interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said.
Allawi's government gave itself emergency powers soon after it took over power from the US-led administration in June, but it has not yet used them despite a raging insurgency.
'We are going to implement it whenever and wherever is necessary. This will send a very powerful message that we are serious,' Allawi said after the announcement.
'We want to secure the country so elections can be done in a peaceful way and the Iraqi people can participate in the elections freely, without the intimidation by terrorists and by forces who are trying to wreck the political process in Iraq.'
An increasingly bloody insurgency has raised doubts that the government will be able to hold elections on time, across Iraq.
Insurgents killed 23 policemen in three attacks across Iraq today. Yesterday, rebels killed 37 Iraqis, mostly policemen, in attacks in Samarra and other Sunni cities in central Iraq.
The increased violence comes amid US preparations for a major assault on the cities of Falluja and Ramadi, which the government says are nerve centres of an insurgency led by foreign Islamic militants and Saddam Hussein loyalists.
The state of emergency gives the government the right to impose curfews, set up checkpoints, and search and detain subjects, provided they have a valid reason and present suspects before a judge within 24 hours.
The spokesperson said Allawi would detail tomorrow what immediate steps would be taken under the state of emergency, which is based on the National Safety Law passed in July.
The government has vowed to take back rebel-held areas ahead of the elections amid fears Iraqis in Sunni hotspots where anti-American sentiment runs high would not be able to vote.
The Muslim Clerics Association, a powerful Sunni group with links to some rebels, has threatened to call for a boycott of the poll if attacks on those areas escalate. Only minority Sunnis who have lost power since last year's war would be likely to answer such a call.
Article One of the law allows emergency rule if lives are threatened by a campaign of violence aimed at 'preventing the establishment of a broadbased government in Iraq, or to hinder the peaceful participation of all Iraqis political process'.
It was one of the first laws passed by the government after it took over sovereignty from the US-led occupation authority on June 28, raising fears of a slide back into authoritarianism.
Emergency laws have been in place in neighbouring Syria for more than 40 years and in Egypt since 1981, drawing criticism from human rights groups who say the region's leaders have abused the legislation to curb freedoms.
Emergency rule can be extended with the written approval of Allawi and a presidential council at 30-day intervals, but otherwise automatically expires.