By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 13, 2007 - Establishing the necessary components to enable the rule of law to function across Iraq's society is vital to creating stable institutions and lasting security in that country, a U.S. military lawyer said in Baghdad today. The Iraqi government is making measurable progress toward that goal by providing fair and impartial courts, professional lawyers, judges and police, and modern and humane detention facilities, Army Col. Mark Martins, Multinational Force Iraq's senior legal official, told reporters at a news conference.
"The rule of law is a principle of governance which holds that your fate depends not on who you are, what religious sect, what region, what tribe, but on what you did," Martins explained.
The rule of law stipulates "that all citizens, institutions, entities, public and private, including the state itself, are accountable to laws, laws that have been publicly passed by a body representative of the people," Martins said.
Laws are to be enforced equally by the police, who are themselves trained to follow the law, Martins said. An impartial, independent and evenhanded judiciary system interprets the law, he said.
A new judicial facility recently opened in Baghdad illustrates progress the Iraqi government is making to establish the rule of law, Martins said.
"This Rule of Law complex now provides a secure place in the heart of Baghdad for all participants in the criminal justice system," Martins explained, including police, investigators, witnesses, judges, court personnel and detainee guards.
Members of Baghdad's criminal justice system now "can work free from attack or intimidation," Martins pointed out. About 30 judges are expected to preside over court cases at the complex, which also features nearly 5,000 modern detention cells, he said.
The rule of law stipulates that citizens are not to take the law into their own hands, Martins pointed out. So, for the rule of law to succeed in Iraq, he said, its citizens need to accept it and put aside ages-old tribal and sectarian animosities.
Much progress is being made each day to establish the rule of law across Iraq, but more work needs to be done, Martins conceded.
"It will require the government, and eventually the people, to reject revenge and terror, which is the use of spectacularly violent attacks on civilians, to achieve a political end," Martins observed. "It will require acceptance of the rule of law."
Martins saluted Iraqi judicial officials' efforts in promoting the rule of law across Iraq, like Higher Judicial Council spokesman Judge Abdul Satar Bayrkdar, who accompanied the colonel at the news conference.
Hundreds of new Iraqi investigators and judges have been hired in recent months, Bayrkdar said, noting there are now about 1,000 judges presiding at courts located across the country. The new judges, he said, are lawyers with 10 or more years of courtroom experience who are vetted for loyalty and integrity by the government. The Iraqi legal system also provides oversight to ensure that all prisoners receive fair and humane treatment, he added.
Iraq's new legal system is obviously fairer and more efficient than the despotic, haphazard courts operated by late dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, Bayrkdar said. For example, 96 percent of all court cases heard in Iraqi courtrooms in 2006 were resolved, he said.
"This is the highest percentage in the history of the Iraqi courts," Bayrkdar said.
Iraq's judiciary system plays "a key part in the rule of law in ensuring that justice is delivered in a fair, expeditious and evenhanded manner" during civil and criminal trials, Jim Santelle, justice attache at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said at the news conference.
Without an independent, fair and efficient criminal justice system, "the rule of law cannot stand and cannot survive," Santelle pointed out.