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Blogger's Roundtable: Rule of Law

UPDATE:  Military spouse Wendy of All Ahead Full has a "Someone You Should Know" post about Brigadier General Phillips.  It comes from his days as a captain with Army CID, when he was the XO for his unit and -- well, read it.

BEGIN ORIGINAL POST:  Yesterday, we spoke with Iraqi Brigadier General Abdel Kharim Khalaf, who is the spokesman for the Minister of the Interior and, more importantly, Chief of Police for the Iraqi government.  After that, we were joined by US Army Brigadier General David Phillips, a career military policeman who was chief of security for the Army staff at the Pentagon on 9/11.  He is currently involved in training Iraqi police, and was able to talk about the improvements in police and also judicial operations in Iraq.  The transcript is here.

The call was highly encouraging.  I've provided some highlights and thoughts after the jump.  But I'm going to give you one story right up front.

GEN. PHILLIPS: Yes, as a matter of fact, I've got one that I can tell you about that just took place today. There was a suicide vehicle bomb that was going down, and the national police were out there doing their job; they identified it early, they engaged it. It exploded in place, wounding 21 civilians who happened to be in the area -- but wounding. No one was killed. Most of the wounds were not that serious. So you had national policemen that were doing what we ask them to do; they did it the right way, and they just probably saved a great deal of lives. And this happened around lunchtime today.

Following that, they, the national police, identified three other vehicles in the vicinity that were also VBIEDs, you know, vehicle-borne explosive devices there. And they brought in their own [Iraqi EOD], took them apart. So I have to say, that was one of the most positive things I've seen in a while.  This is about as current as you can get. I just got the report a short time ago.

The rest follows.

Gen. Khalaf spoke through an interpreter, and there was some occasional difficulty in conveying meaning back and forth.  Neverthless, he came because he wanted to tell us about the new police training facility in Ramadi.

[Gen. Khalaf] says this is the first academy opened after the regime of Saddam Hussein is gone in the Ramadi. (Inaudible) -- three things. The first thing, make people come into the service and the police. Second thing, they train them to get better. Also, the same thing about the (policy manuals ?) we have now they have to train again in the academy and make more stronger. Some of them, they're going to be responsible for the human rights, and they have about 3,000 persons, and the support is from the ministry. And they have (extra things to sign up for it ?) and the support from the ministry.

And that first school to train our military, our police in the Ramadi. This is because Ramadi is a big city, and they have a special saying to do it with the people in Ramadi, so they can be (trained now ?) inside the city and give them chance to get better for the policemen over there.

Gen. Phillips expanded on the point later in the call.

Just recently an agreement was reached between the minister of Interior and the minister of Defense to open the Al Anbar-Habbaniya Iraqi Police Academy, and we did some construction out there. We put 750 students through the course at any given time, and it's right on the facility, almost within walking distance from the 1st IA Division Headquarters. But that there is a big step in and of itself that the army and the police are starting to work together; as you know, that's been somewhat problematic at times....  I would like to say this is Iraqi-led. Although we have about 15 personnel that are advisers out there from CPATT, the instructors are all Iraqi, the administration of the academy is Iraqi, and it's really totally run -- other than a little bit of tutelage, guidance and mentoring there; we do have some Marines that are providing oversight on the life support contracts to make sure that water, ice, food is all delivered. But short of that, this is an Iraqi-run academy on an Iraqi military installation.

All that is good news.  What I thought was of even more importance, though, was the way in which General Petraeus' "Rule of Law" initiative is starting to really flower.  I had asked Dr. David Kilcullen about that issue on an earlier call, as you may remember; he had said that he felt there was progress but still a long way to go, months or years. 

Gen. Phillips was able to give us an idea of what kind of progess was being made, and what the final system will look like.

You are seeing it start to get better. And as you know, we increased and grew the Iraqi police, but we didn't increase and grow the Iraqi judicial system simultaneously at the same speed. Therefore, as the police would execute their duties, arrest and apprehend people off the streets for various crimes, they would sit in their detention cells because there was very few investigative judges to take them to.

Well, now with General Petraeus' initiative, we have the rule of law -- the rule of law zone that we're putting together, and it's really a complex. It's where we have investigative judges, investigators, holding cells, and an actual prison. So now the Iraqi police are able to bring somebody that they've arrested before an investigative judge and a determination is to be made whether or not to hold the individual for additional investigation and subsequent prosecution, or to release him because of a lack of evidence.

That's the long pole in the tent we didn't see recently. That is why the Iraqi police jail cells in their individual police stations were getting so overcrowded, and you know any time you get overcrowding in a jail, it's a conviction -- is set and right for our problem. But now that we have the judges up and starting to run cases and they have their investigators at the Rule of Law Complex, which is on the other side of the river, adjacent to the Ministry of the Interior complex, we're starting to get the flow going.

We've got initiatives to open Rule of Law Complexes up in Mosul and some of the other large cities so that once a person is detained, they can expeditiously go in front of an investigative judge. I wouldn't say it's perfect yet, but we have come a long way in just about a year's time frame.

There were some good questions from the bloggers on this call.  The following one, from Mark Finklestein of Newsbusters, developed the General's last answer a bit more.  We can see from what follows what shape the Iraqi judiciary is taking.

It's Mark Finkelstein. General, when you were discussing earlier the development of the Iraqi judiciary, you made reference to investigative judges, and that, of course, would be a phenomenon seen in continental legal systems, French civil law, that sort of thing; in contrast with our common law system in England and the United States, where, you know, we have prosecutors and police who do the investigation.

Are you in position to indicate the sort of model upon which the Iraqi criminal legal system is based? Is it indeed based on a continental system or are there also elements from the common law system?

GEN. PHILLIPS: I would have to say that, being a career military policeman, there are elements from the common law system. We have a significant number of lawyers from both coalition countries and from the United States that are over here coaching and mentoring them. But it is Iraqi law that they're actually executing, similar to the way the court systems were before the war, although definitely not influenced the way they were before the war.

So I think you have a mix. You have to fairly -- a continental system somewhat like the French. We don't have this definitely in the United States, but it appears to be very functional for the Iraqis.

This is in keeping with Dr. Kilcullen's point that the justice system isn't an American system being imposed on the Iraqis, but a system that is organic to their culture.  They're familiar with it and know how it works, and what to expect from it.  That is important in establishing the sense among the populace that it is a justice system -- it needs to operate in the way they have come to think of as just and proper.

Another thing that is important is fighting corruption.  The general said this:

Every department has bad policemen. Are there more here than other places? Well, we've got some problems. But the internal affairs organization is working ruthlessly to capture them and take them into custody. I heard just yesterday that six were arrested for not only accepting bribes but doing a whole bunch of other stuff they shouldn't have been doing. That's a positive thing, that they were at least arrested.

Q Is that Iraqi internal affairs or ours?

GEN. PHILLIPS: That's Iraqi internal affairs, which is led by -- (name inaudible) -- who I knew since he was a major back in 2003. He has probably one of the most dangerous jobs over here, not to say -- to take away from any other job. But he is investigating the Iraqi police and all of the different -- he actually gets other missions, too by direction of the prime minister. He reports to the minister of the Interior, and he handles all the ugly stuff internal.

There's a lot of people that would like to see him fail at his job. There have been multiple attempts on his life. But he's still out there, and he's still doing it.

I asked a question to followup on what Dr. Kilcullen had told us about the "gated communities" approach in Baghdad.  Dr. Kilcullen said that this had, in his opinion, saved five thousand to eight thousand Iraqi lives.  General Phillips, again, was in a good position to shed some more light on how it is working out.

Okay. I can touch on that a bit being a military policeman.

From what I talked to of the families that are inside that area, they are comfortable because there's control as to who comes in their neighborhood and what they may be bringing into their neighborhood. It's like a gated community only a lot more gated than what you would normally have in the states. So there's that sense of security, but I know ultimately they would want those walls gone so that they don't have to have that eye sore right there, and that's good for my conversations with some of the Iraqi police who I socialize with -- I talk to and ask them about it.

My thanks to Brigadiers Khalaf and Phillips, for taking the time to tell us about all of that, as well as Jack Holt at OASD for putting it together.

There was another call later with one of Central Command's top general officers.  Look for a second post later today on the topic.