Iraq's interim government would first announce an amnesty deal to resistance fighters who had fought US-led occupation forces since last year's invasion but were now ready to lay down their arms, Yawir said.

This move would be followed "by a law on the death penalty," he told reporters in Baghdad.

"We are looking at this carefully, the death sentence will only be applied the way it is applied in many of the world's most advanced societies," Yawir told reporters after meeting with Defence Minister Hazim Shaalan and National Guard Brigadier General Muthir al-Rashidi.

"This is nothing like the previous regime that had laid down 114 articles in the law carrying the death penalty."

The death penalty was suspended during the US-led occupation of Iraq.

European opposition

"Our policy will not change, we are opposed to capital punishment," Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot told a news conference after meeting with Iraq's interim Foreign Minister, Hushiar Zibari in Brussels on Monday.

"We hope to continue dialogue on this issue, but I think that the message has been very clear as far as the European Union is concerned," Bot said.

European Union foreign ministers urged the US-selected interim Iraqi government on Monday not to reinstate the death penalty.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bot (L),
in talks with Hushiar Zibari



"The European Union reconfirms its opposition to the death penalty in all cases," the ministers of the 25-nation bloc said in the draft of a statement after they had met with Zibari.

If it is reinstated, former President Saddam Hussein, who is accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, could face execution.

Zibari told the news conference he himself had campaigned against the death penalty and understood the EU's position.

"There is a need for the new government to be more decisive and tougher in its actions to bring the security situation under control. We need a deterrent against those elements..." he said.

EU aid

Despite EU opposition, there was no suggestion that a decision to reintroduce the death penalty would be an obstacle to the EU executive commission's aid to Iraq, which is set to be around 200 million euros ($248m) a year.

"The European Union reconfirms its opposition to the death penalty
in all cases"

Bernard Bot,
Dutch Foreign Minister

"Concrete support, not just words ... we expect the EU to support us during the reconstruction phase and in the political process and also with the organisation of the next elections," Zibari said.

EU countries were deeply split over the US-led invasion last year, which Britain, Italy, Spain and others backed.

Opponents of the war, led by France and Germany, now want to build good relations with the new interim administration in Baghdad.

The foreign ministers agreed to launch talks with Iraq's authorities, administration and civil society to discuss how the EU could further support the country.
 
Bot, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said the bloc also wanted to send a senior delegation to meet the interim Iraqi government, most likely on the margins of the UN's General Assembly in September.

The European Commission last month approved a medium-term strategy for its relations with Iraq, designed to lead to an EU-Iraq agreement covering trade, aid and political and cultural dialogue after 2006.

Sentencing

Meanwhile, an Iraqi judge said he has condemned to death three men in the Shia holy city of Karbala, even before a ban on capital punishment has been officially lifted.

Judge Salih Shaibani said the sentences were the first to be handed down by an Iraqi court since the US-led occupation of Iraq 15 months ago.

The caretaker government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has not yet lifted the ban on capital punishment put in place by the US administrators of Iraq.

The judge, said the extreme nature of the crimes for which the three men were convicted led him to pronounce the death sentences.

Iraqi group: hundreds of women
have been raped and kidnapped

The first case involved a 25-year-old man who confessed to killing his father, mother-in-law and four brothers with a shovel and pickaxe after a dispute over money, according to police chief General Abbas al-Husni.

He said some of the victims were finished off by strangling, and that a nephew was found guilty of complicity in the case.

In the third conviction, a 45-year-old man was found guilty of engaging in an incestuous relationship with his daughter and then murdering her.

Since the US-led occupation of the country, many sectors of Iraqi society have complained of rampant lawlessness and an upsurge in kidnapping, rape, molestation and murder. 

Iraqi women have expressed fears of leaving their houses after dusk.

The interim government has promised to clamp down on a soaring crime rate.