Ramadi struggles to instill a rule of law
Attacks rise, but a new $21 million court has failed to convict any major suspects in six months. US Marines frustrated by shrinking role in key Iraqi city
In this city that became synonymous with Al Qaeda-linked violence, Iraqi forces are grappling with corruption and lawlessness so pervasive it threatens to derail the hard-won security of the last two years.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite a $21 million, US-funded judicial complex opened recently and regular attacks, not a single major case has been brought to justice in at least the last six months, according to US military officials.
"My goal is to get them [Iraqi officials] to prosecute and develop a terrorism case," says Lt. Col. Joseph Cabell, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment.
As the capital of Anbar, a province where the Sunni insurgency once flourished, success in Ramadi affects security throughout central Iraq, including Baghdad. And there are concerns that Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and other insurgent groups may be reforming here.
Meet the judge
Cabell, from Parkersburg, West Virginia, started a monthly security conference two months ago, bringing together Iraqi police, special forces, army commanders and other officials to try to improve coordination in the capital. At the latest conference, the gathering included a judge, who was meeting some of the Iraqi police commanders he was meant to deal with for the first time.
"A judge is not going to be able to do his job before the police do theirs; if you don't bring me evidence, there's nothing I can do," judge Abdullah Mohammad Abd told the police colonels surrounding him at the meeting this week.
The police complained that when they bring suspects to court, even when they are caught with weapons or have confessed, they are let go.
"If a criminal makes a confession that's not all the evidence," responded Mr. Abd. "Detained people still have rights. If there's a bruise, we can see they've been hit. We all know that sometimes even if they're guilty and they get hit the confession is not going to be admissible and we'll lose."
Mr Abd, who has served as a judge for 10 years, says the suspects have been beaten in custody in a small percentage of the cases he sees.
US and Iraqi officials say they believe bribery is behind the release of some other detainees – including a suspected leader of a Baathist insurgent group the Marines say has been responsible for grenade attacks. He was freed recently for lack of evidence.
No calls for US help
The Marines have been stationed at their base on the outskirts of Ramadi since the June 30 deadline for US combat troops to leave the cities under the US-Iraq national security agreement.
Despite vehicle bombs in July, which prompted Iraqi officials to declare a state of emergency in the city, the Anbar operations command, under control of the Prime Ministry and responsible for coordinating security, has not once called for security assistance from the Marines since the end of June.