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Iraq 'won't hesitate' to impose martial law

Minister comments after latest attack; coalition examines implications

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Less than two weeks before the U.S. coalition is set to transfer sovereignty to Iraq, the country's interim interior minister would not rule out the declaration of martial law if insurgent attacks on Iraqis continue.

Falah al-Nakib was speaking at a news conference just after 35 people were killed in a car bombing on Thursday in Baghdad.

"If we need to do it, yes, we'll do it. We won't hesitate," said al-Nakib, responding to a question about a possible declaration. "This is the security of our country. This is the security and life of our people."

The U.S.-led coalition is examining the legal implications of martial law in Iraq after sovereignty is restored on June 30, a senior coalition official told CNN Friday.

Martial law is defined as temporary rule by the military over the civilian population when civil authority has broken down. It was unclear how this would work in Iraq.

The senior coalition official said coalition lawyers are looking at the possibility.

He said the key issues would be whether Iraqi authorities were in a position to impose laws that would cancel out individual rights guaranteed in a transitional law passed this year.

'By all means available'

In addition to the 35 people killed on Thursday, 145 others were wounded in the bombing that targeted an Iraqi army recruitment center but inflicted a heavy toll on civilians in the street nearby.

Interim Defense Minister Hazem Shalan al-Khuzaei said that "in the next few days, we will chase [the insurgents] ... from house to house and from street to street, by all means available."

Visiting the scene of the blast, interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi vowed his people would prevail in the face of mounting violence before the political handover.

"This is an escalation that we have been expecting," Allawi said. "The government of Iraq is determined to confront the enemies."

The interim interior minister, Al-Nakib, also said he believes insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi could be behind Thursday's car bombing.

Al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian-born Islamic militant whom U.S. officials have said has close ties to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

U.S. sources have said al-Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks on American troops, Iraqi civilians and others, including the August 2003 bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

They also blame him for the videotaped beheading of American businessman Nicholas Berg in May, and the U.S. government has put a $10 million price on his head.

"I think there are some links with al-Zarqawi," said al-Nakib.

Al-Nakib said that an al-Zarqawi aide has been in custody for more than two or three days, but he declined to elaborate.

He said he is confident that bombers involved in suicide attacks are not Iraqis. "We have a very good indication they came from abroad," he said.

Al-Zarqawi and members of his organization may be hiding in the Sunni Muslim stronghold of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, a senior Pentagon official said.

Second day of clashes in Baqubah

For the second day, U.S. soldiers Friday engaged Iraqi insurgents north of Baghdad near Baqubah, killing two of them, a military spokesman said.

A day earlier, U.S. forces shot and killed 10 suspected Iraqi insurgents in a gunfight in the same area.

A patrol from the 1st Infantry Division came under attack at 7:45 a.m. in Buhriz. The spokesman said the insurgents were carrying rocket-propelled grenades.

Other developments

  • A Task Force Baghdad soldier was killed and a Kellogg Brown & Root contractor was wounded in a mortar attack Friday in Baghdad, the Coalition Press Information Center said. Six mortars hit a coalition base at about 2:30 p.m. The soldier was taken to a Baghdad military hospital, where he was pronounced dead, and the contractor returned to work with minor injuries.
  • Three Iraqi bystanders were killed and three U.S. soldiers were wounded when insurgents detonated a bomb in the crowded commercial area of Baghdad known as Kamalaya.
  • The U.S. Army has chosen Gen. Paul J. Kern, a four-star general, to oversee the investigation of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, last week asked to be removed from any role in reviewing the results of the investigation.
  • South Korea on Friday issued its plans for the deployment of 3,655 soldiers in the Erbil region of northern Iraq. The deployment will make South Korea the third-largest member of coalition forces in Iraq, after the United States and Britain. (Full story)
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a report on its investigation into problems with intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, according to the committee's Republican chairman and ranking Democrat. However, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, said there is no way to predict when the secret report can be made public.
  • CNN's Pierre Bairin, Kevin Flower, Mike Mount and Brent Sadler contributed to this report.

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