The Iraqi government has announced a new law allowing it to take aggressive action to put down an on-going insurgency, including the right to declare martial law. But it remains far from certain whether Iraqi security forces will be able to enforce it or whether it will be up to foreign forces, nearly all of them American, to carry out any security clampdown. With many of its own forces ill-equipped and poorly trained, the newly sovereign Iraq has been relying on the more than 150,000 American-led foreign forces in the country to help combat a rebellion by terrorists, Islamic militants and Saddam Hussein loyalists. But the attacks, executions and kidnappings continue.

Wednesday, the Arabic language al-Jazeera television channel broadcast videotape of what appeared to be armed men in Iraq threatening to kill a Filipino hostage unless the Manila government withdraws troops from the country within 72 hours.

But Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's interim government is responding to the insurgency and widespread lawlessness with a new law giving him sweeping powers to declare emergency rule, including imposing curfews and detaining anyone suspected of involvement in the on-going unrest.

"These cowardly criminals are still desperately attempting to prevent our rich country from moving forward and improving the daily lives of our people by indiscriminate killings," he said.

But he will need the unanimous consent of his cabinet to impose such measures, which Iraq's Minister of Human Rights Bakhtiar Amin says will not necessarily be announced in advance. "Whenever we feel that there is a major danger, and threat upon the national security and our institutions, this law will be implemented," he said.

But just as his government was announcing the tougher security measures, street fighting broke out in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, which witnesses say left at least three Iraqi soldiers dead. Heavy artillery was fired at the prime minister's residence and party offices just nine days after the Iraqi government regained political power.