BAGHDAD, Iraq—The U.S. administrator in Iraq announced plans on Tuesday for a new Central Court that will tackle the country's serious criminal cases, as coalition military forces continued their struggle to bring civil order to Iraq.
L. Paul Bremer said the court should be "an illustration of how important we think it is to show that we are serious about going after some of the supporters of the previous regime who have committed crimes against the Iraqi people (and) against the coalition."
Iraq's future interim government will have to decide whether the court would be used to try war criminals, he said.
The absence of a functioning judicial system has hampered the U.S.-led effort to end crime, looting and attacks on U.S. forces, and helped fuel resentment of American troops who have been rounding up suspected criminals and Saddam Hussein loyalists without a court system to determine which ones are enemy combatants and which are innocent victims.
"Before the Americans, there was law," said Najah Chasip, who witnessed a gun battle between would-be carjackers and a car owner and his friends Monday afternoon. One of the suspects was shot in the leg, and a man in the crowd took a bullet to the back, Chasip said.
The coalition forces running Iraq have removed many judges because of their ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. The resulting shortage of judges has left many people suspected of crimes waiting in jail for the cases to go to court.
Bremer said the goal was to establish the new court quickly. A judicial review committee will appoint Iraqi judges.
The U.S.-lead coalition governing Iraq is trying to get a grip on the violence that plagues Iraq, including the capital's sweltering streets.
In northern Baghdad, Pvt. Shawn D. Pahnke, 25, of Shelbyville, Ind., was sitting in a military vehicle during a patrol at 11:50 p.m. Monday when he was struck in the back by a small-caliber bullet that pierced his body armor. Medics tried to save him, but he died Tuesday, the military said in a statement. Pahnke was with Company C, 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division.
Pahnke's death was the latest in a series of deadly ambushes of American forces trying to bring order to Iraq.
"We've had patterns of attacks against Americans. Usually, they miss. They didn't in this case," a military spokesman said Tuesday, speaking under briefing rules that require anonymity. "We're getting shot at every day."
Baghdad residents also fear the dangerous streets of their city, where robberies, car jackings and attempted murders are part of any normal day.
In the area north and west of Baghdad, where support for Saddam Hussein was strong and many of the ambushes of American forces have taken place, American soldiers on Tuesday continued to search house to house for militants and weapons. Since the operation, called Desert Scorpion, began on Sunday, at least 412 people have been detained, U.S. Central Command reported.
Desert Scorpion is one of the largest military operations in Iraq since major fighting ended in April. Army officials say it is aimed at criminals, former members of Saddam's Baath Party and terrorists.
Iraqis are angry about how soldiers conducted the raids, especially after some television networks broadcast footage of the raids that showed men being dragged from their beds in their underwear and children wearing handcuffs.
"They're going to use the force required to accomplish the mission and protect their forces," a military spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It doesn't look nice. It doesn't look friendly. But it's better to put someone in flexicuffs for a short time than to go in shooting. That's what the old regime would have done. That's not something we want to do."
As for handcuffing children, the spokesman said, "There may be times that's appropriate. You may recall a while back there were cases of children throwing grenades at soldiers."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.