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Iraq Starts to Revive its Criminal Justice System

Iraq has taken the first step to revive its criminal justice system since Baghdad fell to U.S. forces a month ago.

A total of 13 defendants appeared in two Baghdad courts. These were the first court proceedings in the capital since President Saddam Hussein was toppled last month.

The American adviser to the Iraqi justice ministry, Clint Williamson, explained the procedures at a news conference.

"What is happening today are investigative hearings in front of investigative judges," he said. "These are persons who have been arrested for serious crimes since the end of the conflict. They will be brought in front of the court today, will meet with investigating judges, and according to Iraqi procedures, the judges will make decisions whether these persons will be continued into detention or whether they will be released."

Judge Ibrahim Malik al Hindawi said the suspects face charges ranging from murder, to looting and arson that occurred during the crime spree following the fall of Baghdad on April 9.

Mr. Williamson explained how the suspects had been taken into custody. "Some of them had been arrested by Iraqi police," he said. "Some of them had been arrested by coalition forces, and some had been arrested in joint patrols."

Under Saddam Hussein's rule, countless thousands of Iraqis were jailed for political reasons. It was even against the law to insult the president.

Judge Ezzat Tawfik Jaafar said it will take time to eliminate the Hussein-era amendments to the 1969 legal code. Judge Jaffar said he looks forward to a justice system that is less repressive. "Things will get better and better," he said, "and we will do our work better than before."

The judges said the current legal system is not equipped to prosecute former Iraqi officials for crimes against the Iraqi people. But they said a special court could be set up to handle such cases.

About 20 former senior officials are now in the custody of U.S. forces, and another 35 are wanted, including Saddam Hussein.