- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2007

Iraq’s need for a Rule of Law Complex — so termed by its American military and legal advisers — underscores the continued protracted security difficulties there. But then, the opening of criminal proceedings in this complex for the first time last week shows what progress toward the rule of law looks like when, under the most difficult of circumstances, a security baseline is established and the business of the Iraqi judiciary can get underway.

The complex is a newly opened, secure facility in an undisclosed corner of Baghdad’s Al Resafa District and is “designed to bring police, judicial, and jail/functions into a secure environment,” as Pentagon advisers describe it. There, Iraqi judges, prosecutors and police can engage in their normal business with significantly decreased fear of retribution or intimidation by insurgents. Considering the multiple murders and abductions of judges and members of Saddam Hussein’s defense team, it’s a wonder this idea hasn’t been pursued aggressively until now. There are 2,500 prison beds in or near the complex with plans for 5,000 more in coming months. The facility has 24/7 security and is reinforced with so-called “T-walls” to guard against car bombs and other insurgent attacks. Biometric identification is planned for later this year.

The two criminal proceedings that began there last week involve an al Qaeda operative allegedly responsible for multiple attacks on Iraq civilians, and a Shi’ite National Police Officer who allegedly tortured Sunnis in his custody. Both would be much more difficult to prosecute outside the facility with the threat of attacks on judges and prosecutors. To make up for the inherent limitations of a secure and closed facility, in each case, Iraqi media and government officials are encouraged to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television, which they have in droves, according to Pentagon officials.

Col. Mark Martins, a top Pentagon legal adviser in Iraq and one of the Army’s brightest rising legal stars, told us that he knows the justice center is but a small step. But, he says, it shows “the political will to reject a cycle of revenge” as well as the “capacity to render justice on what someone did” — not who they are. Col. Martins also stresses the importance of the enhanced security environment afforded by the “surge” — not just boots on the ground, but also insurgent expectations and perceptions — as critical to the complex’s success. In other words, this is not a story for the throw-in-the-towel crowd.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice often likes to analogize Iraq’s future to Colombia — guerrilla-plagued, frequently violent, but viable as a nation-state with U.S. assistance. It possesses a working economy, sometimes even a vibrant one, and is minimally problematic for neighbors in light of its often serious security problems. This is a tall order for Iraq, but not an impossible one. To the extent that the United States has the political will to allow projects like the Rule of Law Complex time to succeed, Iraq will be a few steps closer. Of course, absent that will, we likelier leave justice in Iraq to doom than to any other more favorable outcome.

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