Showing off the handcuffed suspects at a Baghdad press conference, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told reporters he is confident the men will be found guilty, citing their alleged confessions, documents and video found at their homes that he said showed their earlier attacks and plans to carry out new ones.
He did not say when the men were arrested, but described them as operatives of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida wing, who were based in Iraq's Sunni-dominated western Anbar province.
"Today, we will send those criminals and the investigation results to the courts that will sentence them to death," al-Bolani, a Shiite Muslim, told reporters. "Our demand is not to delay the carrying out of the executions against these criminals so that to deter terrorist and criminal elements."
The prisoners, who were wearing orange jumpsuits, were silent throughout the news conference.
Al-Bolani, who is lobbying to keep his job as Iraq's leaders vie for top ministry posts in the new government, said sentencing the men to death quickly would ensure they are not released by security forces.
He said swift execution, as many Iraqis demand for terrorists, also would serve as a deterrent to insurgents. Al-Bolani wore a black-and-white tribal headdress at Thursday's announcement - a nod to several Anbar sheiks who were in the audience.
His comments appear to belie millions of dollars the U.S. has spent trying to implore the rule of law on Iraq, in part by making sure detainees get a fair trial.
Abdul-Rahman Najim al-Mashhadani, head of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization that has been helping reform Iraq's judicial system, scoffed at al-Bolani's comments and predicted at least some of the suspects would be found not guilty.
"Verdicts should be issued by courts, not by ministers who should be confined to the powers given to them only, especially if they are in the outgoing government," al-Mashhadani said.
Authorities said one of the suspects was tasked with recruiting foreign fighters to launch attacks in Iraq, such as the Oct. 31 siege on a Catholic church in Baghdad that left 68 dead and is believed to have been carried out by men with north African accents.
Iraq had earlier announced the arrests of 14 suspected in the bloody church siege. Officials said those detainees were related to Thursday's 39 suspects only through shared support of al-Qaida.
Al-Bolani said the recruitment was unsuccessful, adding: "Al-Qaida in Iraq has failed in recruiting non-Iraq or Arab members who used to come from different countries."
His remarks came as the Defense Ministry spokesman announced the capture of a Moroccan fighter in a raid in the northern city of Mosul. The spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, said two fighters who were killed in the Thursday morning raid were not from Iraq.
Also in Mosul, police and hospitals officials said gunmen killed a young man and an 18-year-old woman in separate attacks in the city, a former al-Qaida haven. And in the western Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib, police said gunmen killed the wife of a member of the Sahwa, or Awakening Council - a Sunni militia that is backed by the government.
Two employees of Abu Ghraib's water treatment plant were killed and a third was injured in a morning bomb there, police said. And separate rush-hour roadside bombing in Baghdad wounded 12 people, including five policemen, authorities said. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Violence has dropped dramatically but bombings and shootings still occur almost every day, and Iraqi security forces have faced heightened threats across the country as U.S. troops prepare to leave.
Associated Press Writers Lara Jakes in Baghdad and Sameer N. Yacoub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.