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Courts in Marine-run zone get final send-off from soldiers

3 Jul 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

During the war last year, the courthouse here was nearly destroyed by looters.

Since then, soldiers with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, have invested thousands of dollars in construction and equipment into the Al Anbar Province judicial system. The province includes the cities Marines work in such as Ar Ramadi and Falluja.

Soldiers from 1 BCT are here supporting the 1st Marine Division's security and stabilization mission.

In conjunction with a detachment of Marines from 3rd Civil Affairs Group, 1st BCT delivered the "last of the gifts" to Kamel Shihab Ahmed, chief judge of Al Anbar Province.

According to Army Capt. James Stamper, 1st BCT attorney, eight computers, one printer, 21 "second chance" vests and several radios were donated for distribution to courthouses throughout the province.

Stamper has been working with the judges and attorneys here since September. Until a few weeks ago, the Manhattan, Kan., soldier conducted claims operations from the courthouse.

"Claims are a great way to establish goodwill in the country," he explained. "Our job is to compensate Iraqi civilians whose property was damaged during raids or who were injured during combat."

Over time, Stamper got to know the judges and attorneys working in the province.
He described them as "competent and well-educated."

"The judicial system was probably the only branch of the Iraqi government that was mostly intact after the war," Stamper said. "The people know what they're doing. We've mainly been donating supplies and motivating them to clean the system up some."

That's because, like almost everything under Saddam Hussein's run, the legal system was plagued by corruption.

Haji Madi Soley Khalaf, the head of the Iraqi Property Claims Commission, has been practicing law since 1965.

"Before Saddam Hussein took over, judges had to have five years of experience in the courtroom. Saddam changed that and made it so lawyers could go to a two-year judges' school," Khalaf explained. "He did that so he would be able to have them on his side."

Most of Iraq's laws during Hussein's regime were beneficial to a small minority of citizens.

A placard displayed above the judges' seats in the courtroom here sums up Khalaf's beliefs. The saying, which comes from the Koran, reads, "If you judge among the people, you must be just."

In 1989, he tried to resign from his job as judge during Hussein's rule but was denied because he was not old or sick enough to rate an early retirement. His pay was cut in half, and he was forced to accept a lesser position as an attorney.

"I did not want to work under such corrupt laws," he said. "All I wanted to do was do true justice which would please God and that would help my clients."

Khalaf said before Hussein's Ba'ath Party was overthrown, the law did not protect "common people," but he and the hundreds of lawmen in Iraq are looking to change that.

"We are in the beginning stages. The government is still not strong enough yet," Khalaf
added. "We don't have a strong police system or military to enforce the laws."

Still, he said he's optimistic.

"If the people of Iraq give the new government their full support with the laws, we will be very successful," explained Khalaf.

Although Stamper will not be working from the courthouse anymore, he and his staff will maintain contact with the judges and lawyers.

"They didn't really have the resources for a strong judicial system before," Stamper explained. "Now they have the resources and good people. They'll do just fine."