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Bush will back call for martial law

By Susan Sachs

ISTANBUL, Turkey, June 28. The United States President, George W. Bush, said on Monday that the coalition forces in Iraq would support a possible decision by the new Iraqi leadership to declare martial law to deal with the escalating violence and terror attacks.

``Iraqis know what we know, that the best way to defend yourself is to go on the offensive,'' he said, speaking at a news conference with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The two leaders, the main proponents of the invasion of Iraq, acknowledged that they had yet to convince many of their critics that the war was justified.

But Mr. Blair said the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis on Monday demonstrated their commitment to fostering democracy in Iraq, not just ridding the country of a dictator and then occupying it.

``From now on," he said, "the coalition changes. We are there in support of the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people."

Iraq's new Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, and other Iraqi leaders have said they are considering stringent measures, including the imposition of martial law, to establish a modicum of order in Iraq and gain credibility with the Iraqi public, whose main complaint during the 14-month occupation has been a lack of security.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair pledged continuing military support for the new Iraqi Government, saying their soldiers would help protect public property and provide security for national elections next year.

Under the terms of a United Nations Security Council resolution passed this month, the multinational force now in Iraq will remain under U.S. command but work in coordination with Iraq's Government.

NATO heads of state meeting in Istanbul on Monday also offered to help train Iraqi security forces, although they said that individual NATO nations would decide what form any assistance would take.

Mr. Bush said the Iraqi leadership faced extraordinary security challenges that might require tough temporary measures. In particular, he cited Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist blamed for organising a series of devastating bombings as well as the kidnapping and beheadings of foreigners in Iraq.

A U.S. Marine, a Pakistani and three Turks are believed to be in the hands of Zarqawi allies, who have threatened to kill them.``Prime Minister Allawi, as head of a sovereign government, may decide he has to take tough measures to deal with a brutal cold-blooded killer," Mr. Bush said, in a reference to Zarqawi. "Our job is to help."

Mr. Bush spoke eight hours after the surprise handover of power to the interim Iraqi Government in Baghdad.The transfer of sovereignty was moved up from June 30 in response to the request of Allawi. A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity in a briefing for reporters, said the idea had been discussed in Baghdad and Washington for about a week. Mr. Allawi had told the administration that Monday would be ``the right day,'' the official added, and the final decision to go ahead with an early handover was made late on Sunday.

He said that Mr. Allawi had informed L. Paul Bremer, the occupation administrator in Iraq, and that Bremer had notified Mr. Bush and his aides, who arrived in Istanbul on Saturday night.

Mr. Bush said he was convinced that the Iraqis were ready and able to take charge of their own affairs.``Last Friday, we handed over the final Ministry to the Iraqi Government, so, in other words, we have been making a transfer of sovereignty all along," Mr. Bush said. "The final decision was made by Prime Minister Allawi. He thought it would strengthen his hand. I thought it was a smart thing to do, primarily because the Prime Minister was ready for it."

He went on to praise Mr. Allawi and the interim Iraqi President, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, as strong leaders who had shown that they were ready for independence."They're gutsy, courageous and, as they say in Texas, they're stand-up guys," he said. "They'll lead. They'll lead their people to a better day."

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