BAGHDAD -- Interim prime minister Iyad Allawi said yesterday that national elections set for January 2005 could be delayed if security is not established in the volatile country.
Iraq's interim constitution says that elections for a national assembly must be held by Jan. 31, but Allawi told CBS News that they could be delayed for up to two months.
"We are committed to elections, and one of the tasks is really to work toward achieving these objectives," Allawi said in an interview in Baghdad with Dan Rather. "However, security will be [the] main feature of whether we will be able to do it in January, February, or March."
Asked if January was an "absolute certain date," for a vote, Allawi replied: "It's not absolute yet. It depends on how things will move. But we hope, and all of us will work toward that objective."
Allawi was appointed prime minister June 1, and his government is due to assume sovereignty from the US occupation authority on Wednesday.
Iraq has been hit by a recent spate of car bombings and attacks that authorities blame on insurgents and supporters of Jordanian terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Allawi and members of his government have spoken in past days of possibly imposing martial law in some part of Iraq in an effort to rein in violence.
Allawi said in the interview that the government was considering a law "that we are calling the defense of public safety" that would "empower the government to take action to defend its people."
"It wouldn't be martial law," he said. But it would allow the government to "take actions and measures against criminals, apprehend them, question them . . . and impose curfews."
National elections are to be held in January to choose a national assembly, which would create a new government to replace Allawi's and would convene a national convention to draft a constitution that would be put to voters in October 2005.
Some fear postponing the January ballot could trigger unrest among the country's Shi'ite Muslims, who make up about 60 percent of Iraq's population. Shi'ites are expected to dominate any new elected government.
Meanwhile, explosions rocked the center of the predominantly Shi'ite Muslim city of Hilla late yesterday. The US military said this morning that the explosions in Hilla killed 40 people and injured 22, according to the Associated Press.
The blasts occurred at about 8:45 p.m. near the former Saddam Hussein mosque, said Polish Lieutenant Colonel Robert Strzelecki. Hilla, which is 60 miles south of Baghdad, falls under the responsibility of Polish troops serving with American forces in Iraq.
"We know that there are Iraqi civilians killed and wounded," Strzelecki said. No coalition troops were involved, he said.
The US military later said in a statement that the blasts were caused by bombs, "possibly vehicle borne." Previously it was thought that one car bomb had detonated, but a statement this morning said two devices went off.
Gunmen also launched new attacks in the city of Baquba, northeast of the capital, the scene of fierce fighting in a surprise offensive launched by militants loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi on Thursday that left 100 people dead. In central Baghdad, insurgents killed a US soldier in an attack on a patrol, the military said.
In the new violence in Baquba, gunmen attacked the offices of two political parties and other buildings. At least nine people died, among them six insurgents, US and Iraqi officials said.
Insurgents hit the offices of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the country's biggest Shi'ite parties, with shoulder-fired grenade-launchers, said party member Maitham Ibrahim.
Three party members died and two were injured, hospital officials said. Gunmen also overran the offices of Allawi's political party, the Iraq National Accord, setting off an explosion that sent smoke and flames leaping from the building's third-story windows, witnesses said. No one was hurt.
US Major Neal O'Brien, spokesman of the First Infantry Division, said that four guerrillas, one wearing an explosives-packed vest, also attacked Baquba's blue-domed government building. Guards fired back, killing the four, he said. Two other insurgents died in an attack on a police station, O'Brien said.
A car bomb exploded in the Kurdish stronghold of Erbil, killing one person and injuring 18 people, including the culture minister of the pro-American Kurdistan Democratic Party.
In Mahmoudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad, insurgents killed two Iraqi National Guardsmen in an ambush. Another police officer was killed in a separate attack there, said the director of the Mahmoudiyah general hospital, Dawoud al-Taei.
An American supply convoy made a wrong turn, mistakenly entering the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, Governor Adnan al-Zurufi said. Militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr fired on the convoy, which didn't fire back. Two civilian bystanders were wounded.