- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

BAGHDAD — War-weary Iraqis adopted a wait-and-see attitude yesterday toward their new government and tough-talking prime minister, who vowed to wipe out terrorists and restore security and basic services to the country.

A day after naming Iraq’s first permanent government since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he immediately would start implementing “in full” a sweeping anti-terror law that was adopted last year.

But a daily diet of executions, bombs, mortars and gunfire combined with a shortage of gas and electricity has left most Iraqis numb to the promises of political leaders, who have failed to improve the lives of most people.

“We stopped hoping. If something starts to happen, OK, we will start hoping again. Even Saddam looked good in the beginning,” said one young Christian woman who asked that her name not be used.

In Washington, President Bush said he had called Mr. al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders to congratulate them on the formation of a government, which still lacks permanent ministers of defense and interior.

“I assured them that the United States will continue to assist Iraqis in the formation of a new country because I fully understand that a free Iraq will be an important ally in the war on terror … and will serve as example for others in the region who desire to be free,” Mr. Bush said.

“The formation of a unity government in Iraq is a new day for the millions of Iraqis who want to live in peace,” he said. “And the formation of the unity government in Iraq begins a new chapter in our relationship with Iraq.”

Mr. al-Maliki said on Al Sharqiya TV that the new government’s “first challenge is the security challenge and how to face these terrorist killers who are wreaking havoc in the land, spreading evil and shedding the blood of people.”

“These terrorist killers must know that this government was designed to confront this challenge with high competence, God willing,” he said.

Under the law, which carries the death penalty, terrorism is defined as “any criminal act carried out by one or more persons against the security or stability of the state, and/or against persons or groups of persons, deliberately or unwittingly.” Anyone committing any acts that threaten national unity; committing, planning or financing terrorist acts; concealing or sheltering terrorists can be prosecuted under the law.

Abu Yusef, 27, welcomed Mr. al-Maliki’s stance.

“He seems tough to me,” the computer programmer said. “By activating the anti-terror rules, it means that half of Baghdad’s imams in the mosques will be thrown into jail, and that would be perfect. Even [Sunni leader] Saleh al-Mutlaq, if he keeps saying he will join the insurgency, he will get thrown into jail.”

Many Iraqis feel a strong government hand is needed to stop terrorists, insurgents, sectarian killers and free-roaming criminal gangs.

A bomb exploded yesterday in a Baghdad restaurant popular with police, killing at least 13 persons. At least two bombs went off the night before, residents said.

“The next six months will be truly critical for Iraq,” U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the Associated Press.

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