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New Criminal Court System Created in Iraq

New Criminal Court System Created in Iraq

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. authorities announced creation of a new criminal court Tuesday and a panel to purge judges loyal to Saddam Hussein. The U.S. military said a sweep of loyalist strongholds resulted in 400 arrests, and an American soldier was killed in Baghdad.

The reforms announced by L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official in Iraq, are designed to upgrade a judicial system that catered to Saddam's desires rather than the rule of law.

The two new authorities -- the Judicial Review Committee and the Central Criminal Court -- are important steps in giving the Iraqi people a justice system they can trust and respect, Bremer said.

"The Review Committee's task is to clean up Iraq's judiciary," he said. "If the Committee finds any judge or prosecutor who violates these standards, the committee will dismiss him or her from office."

The committee will consist of three Iraqis and three members of the occupying coalition and will finish its initial work in three or four months, Bremer said.

The criminal court will help the judiciary crack down on criminals undermining Iraq's security and reconstruction. They "will be brought to justice without delay," said Bremer.

Some judges and lawyers scoffed at what they called U.S. interference in their courts.

"The Americans are an occupation force and we are the source of one of the oldest codes of law -- Hammurabi's Code," judge Qassem Ayyash said. "It's like teaching a driver how to drive."

Iraq's judiciary has not recovered from the war. Most courts have been looted or destroyed and remain closed. Bremer made his announcement at the reopening of the Iraqi Judicial College, which was looted during the war. It was renovated with U.S. money.

Despite the military's extensive sweeps against loyalists to stop attacks against Americans, an Army soldier riding in a Humvee with the 1st Armored Division's 1st Brigade was shot and killed by a sniper in Baghdad late Monday. The soldier's name was not made public.

The U.S. military said raids that began Sunday on Iraqi homes and businesses in Baghdad and northern Iraq were meant to "isolate and defeat remaining pockets of resistance."

The operation is stirring deep resentment, with innocent Iraqis rounded up, handcuffed and interrogated, townspeople say.

Late Monday, U.S. forces raided an outdoor cafe in Baghdad's Azamiyah neighborhood where two dozen men were playing backgammon and drinking tea. All were lined up against a fence, blindfolded, forced to kneel and carted away on trucks. They were released later, after none turned out to be suspects.

U.S. soldiers said they had no choice other than to cast a wide net in hopes of catching attackers who intelligence reports said spent time at the cafe.

The insurgents took their fight to a new level Tuesday, firing shots into the mayor's office and courthouse in Fallujah and a police station in Khaldiyah -- offices that have been cooperating with the U.S.-led occupation. No injuries were reported.

The shootings were the first known attacks directed against Iraqi officials for cooperating with U.S. forces and represented a new front in the insurgents' attempt to undermine U.S. forces in Iraq.

Some officials believe remnants of Saddam Hussein's security apparatus have begun to establish guerrilla cells, though it remained unclear if the attacks Tuesday were centrally organized.

Over three days, troops in Baghdad and northern Iraq carried out 69 raids and arrested 412 people, a U.S. military statement said.

In the Baghdad area, troops seized 121 rifles, two submachine guns, 19 pistols, 18 rocket-propelled grenades, four machine guns, 31 pounds of explosives, and chemical protective masks, the statement said.

Two Sunni tribal leaders in Ramadi, about 60 miles west of Baghdad, sharply criticized the U.S. actions.

"For every action they should expect a reaction," said Sheik Saad Nayef al-Hardan, the chief of Iraq's largest Arab tribe, the Dulaim. "Those attacks are a sign that the tolerance to the humiliation is running out."

Another senior tribal leader in Ramadi, Abu Adel, said the guerrilla attacks on U.S. forces were acts of self-defense committed by an "underground operation."

"We are a proud people and we will not accept this humiliation," he said. The Americans "should beware the wrath of the Iraqi people."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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