Law and Order: Special Iraq Unit.

Law and Order: Special Iraq Unit.

Law and Order: Special Iraq Unit.

The best new ideas for rebuilding a nation.
April 30 2003 12:54 PM

Law and Order: Special Iraq Unit

Six new ideas for bringing real security to Iraq.

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Enforcing the law doesn't just mean cops. Another realization of the Balkans recovery is that cops are not enough for law and order. The United States should waste no time—well, it has already wasted too much time—placing a big, well-muscled police force on the ground. But the justice system will be toothless until competent prosecutors and judges join them. Police without judges and prosecutors are worse than nothing, since those arrested are treated arbitrarily—they either walk or are locked up without recourse. This undermines any faith in the rule of law. The judges and prosecutors should include international experts who would not only carry out the law, but would also train Iraqis to do it. Iraqis, accustomed to a dictatorial justice system, need to be taught the principles of law.

Better peacekeeping through technology. Just as total instant communication won the war faster, so it can help speed the peace. Instant communications allow peacekeepers to mobilize quickly to nip protests, catch criminals, and—if we have the will—stop looting. The new technology means U.S. forces are in touch with both Iraqi allies and Iraqi opponents: The better communications reduce misunderstandings in the field and thus reduce violence. Thanks to e-mail and cell phones, military coordination with NGOs and international aid groups has vastly improved, says Sheryl Brown, who co-directs the U.S. Institute of Peace's Virtual Diplomacy Initiative. Groups no longer duplicate efforts. As a result, we need fewer troops and aid groups to keep order in Iraq than we would have a decade ago.


Test the law. Iraq will have excellent laws soon. On paper its laws will be wonderful—heck, your fifth-grade niece could probably write a great constitution for Iraq—but so what? Another bitter lesson from the ex-Soviet states is that a law is only as good as it is alive. Russia and Co. have superb laws on paper, but citizens don't know about them. Insofar as they do know about the laws, they don't believe in them. Insofar as they believe in the laws, they don't trust corrupt judges to enforce them. Iraq—where the rule of law has been absent since, oh, Hammurabi—will face a similar chasm between its paper laws and the popular understanding of them.

The Eurasia Foundation has a clever seed project that's designed to reverse this, says its president, Bill Maynes. The foundation is helping Russian citizens enforce laws. Traditionally, a Russian citizen has no recourse when the government decides to seize her house for some government use. Laws forbid such property-taking, but no one dares challenge the authorities. The Eurasia Foundation has been sponsoring lawsuits in Russia, including one by a wronged property-owner who forced the local government to pay compensation for a house's destruction. A small triumph, to be sure, but one that reinforces property rights, makes some Russian citizens believe in the law, and makes some Russian leaders fear it.

When the law returns to Iraq, NGOs and the U.S. government should prod Iraqis to use it. The United States can impose temporary order on Iraq by force, but order and law will take more work. A first step should be teaching Iraqis that the law can serve—and not merely punish—them.

Neither law and order nor democracy will last long in Iraq without a vital civil society—the private associations, groups, mosques, and relationships that can check government and encourage citizen activism. Building civil society is an area where recent progress has been speedy. In the next piece, I'll examine some of the best new ideas.


Read the introduction to Iraq's Progress and the new ideas for bringing democracy, civil society, economic recovery, and religious harmony to Iraqand using virtual world games to reconstruct it.