Rebuilding a viable legal system in Iraq is essential towards creating a democratic future for the country, experts say.

“The world has not faced this kind of situation since World War II, the last occupation by a great Western power,” says David Tolbert, director of the ABA’s Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative, which provides support for legal reform efforts in Central and Eastern Europe and in the new independent states of the former Soviet Union.

But Tolbert and others say the need to establish legal structures is even more urgent in post-conflict settings to resist the “tremendous temptation to resort back to violence.”

Some preparations to rebuild legal institutions in Iraq were under way even before the war began, and lawyers from the military and the De- partment of Justice arrived in Iraq as the conflict was winding down in mid-April.

The Pentagon’s newly established Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which is coordinating the interim U.S. administration of Iraq, has been assembling a legal advisory team.

The main question facing the U.S. civilian authority and its legal advisers is how much of the Iraqi legal system can be salvaged.

Experts say the Iraqi judiciary long has been a labyrinth of civil, criminal and religious courts. A separate network of national security and “revolutionary” courts was added to the mix when Hussein’s Baath Party assumed power in 1968. By the time Hussein became president in 1979, all vestiges of judicial independence had effectively disappeared.

Some experts favor a drastic approach in rebuilding the Iraqi justice system.

Zakia Hakki in 1959 became one of Iraq’s first female judges and now is among the many Iraqi exiles advising the U.S. civilian authority. She calls for abolishing all revolutionary and special courts as a preliminary step to writing a new constitution.

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