Special to American Forces Press Service
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq, Jan. 7, 2010 - "The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept."
This passage in William Shakespeare's play "Measure for Measure" describes the current state of the judicial system in southern Iraq, the birthplace of the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia and home to Hammurabi's Code, one of the world's earliest sets of written laws.
Now, with help from provincial reconstruction teams manned by U.S. Forces Iraq and the U.S. State Department, modern-day Iraq is in the process of reawakening its judicial system after years of oppression, war and neglect.
In the southern provinces of Dhi Qar, Maysan, and Muthanna, the mission of advising and assisting falls to the Army's 2nd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, in Task Force Pathfinder. As part of one project, the soldiers provided 50 evidence-collection kits and training to Iraqi police. Even this simple program has shown great results, with a marked rise in the use of forensic evidence in cases rather than confessions and testimonials alone.
But it takes more than modern investigative techniques to restore a functioning judicial system. A lack of adequate infrastructure in southern Iraq also is a factor. Though Iraq's central government has built some courthouses, others remain incomplete, abandoned due to budget shortfalls.
The Al Fijir Courthouse in northern Dhi Qar is one example. Originally started by the Dhi Qar provincial council, the building was abandoned after funding dried up.
As a result, court hearings were diverted outside of the district, putting a strain on the neighboring courts and causing numerous delays in prosecution.
Tapping into Commander's Emergency Response Program funds, the task force was able to get the Al Fijir Courthouse construction back on schedule. "It will allow judicial procedures to be properly executed, ... affecting over 300,000 people," said Army 1st Lt. Phillip Martin, the project officer.
Army Sgt. 1st. Class Samuel Encinias, a project manager with Task Force Pathfinder, expounded on the significance of the courthouse renovation.
"It has increased the number of court cases the province completes, because it allows them to perform their daily functions," he said. "It is important for the Iraqi people to see local crimes handled by an impartial, local judge."
Since the project's materials and labor are obtained locally, it also stimulates the local economy.
The Dhi Qar provincial reconstruction team's rule-of-law advisor, Luca Costa, works to develop the judicial system on a parallel track, creating partnerships with law students and professors at An Nasiriyah University's Law School, bringing in Italian legal experts to conduct classes on important constitutional issues, while reinforcing open communication between the police who investigate crimes and the investigative judges who prosecute them.
Through constant interaction, Costa discovered the need for a consolidated, accessible location for legal information relevant to the needs of Dhi Qar. Using State Department grants used to address essential social needs, he created a Web site to make pertinent legal information in Arabic readily accessible. "We aim to open the door and encourage them to discover the information out there," Costa said.
Initiatives like these, combined with rule-of-law seminars hosted by judge advocate general officers from the 1st Armored Division's 4th Brigade provincial reconstruction team rule-of-law advisors are helping to fill the voids in the Iraqi judicial system.
Through such mentorship, training and reconstruction efforts, Iraqis are steadily moving closer to regaining the impartial, efficient legal system that is critical to sustaining the progress made in the region, said Army Lt. Col. Michael Eastman, Task Force Pathfinder commander.
"After so many years of war and sectarian violence, it is critical that we do all we can to leave behind a fair, functioning judicial system," he said. "The equality of all Iraqis before the law is a fundamental principle that will go a long way toward safeguarding the progress made in this country."
(Army Capt. John Landry of the 1st Armored Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team serves with Task Force Pathfinder.)