15th MEU News

15th MEU (SOC) kick starts Nasiriyah's legal system

25 Apr 2003 | Cpl. Anthony R. Blanco 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Marines and Sailors of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) are working together with local law enforcements to restore law and order in an area where it has been absent since the start of the war.

Some of the first steps in re-establishing the legal system is to clean up the courthouse, institute a police force and start a penal system to help Iraqi's transition from a United States military presence to a local one.

To kick things off, the Staff Judge Advocate for the 15th MEU (SOC), Maj. Mick Wagoner, 36, a Grand Island, Neb., native, traveled to the courthouse to have a face-to-face meeting with Iraqi judges and lawyers April 22.

Trash lingered throughout the courthouse lawn and ashes covered the law library from a fire a started during the war. Before they could even enter the building, Wagoner's meeting with the local law leadership began quickly by the front entrance of the courthouse.

"We talked about how to re-introduce the rule of law on An Nasiriyah with the crawl, walk, run method," Wagoner said. "You have to have three working parts in order for this to work.  A working, trustworthy police force, a penal system and a working court system."

Some Iraqis took advantage of the absent legal system and tore the city apart by looting anything that was worth taking.

"The biggest problem we have right now are looters and the thefts," Wagoner said. 

Because the courthouse is inhabitable due to the fire and looters, Marines, Sailors and Iraqis are coming together to clean the place up. 

The U. S. Government is supplying the paint, windows, doors and furniture, and Marine Corps combat engineers are providing some handy work to help rebuild the courthouse's damaged structure.  Iraqis, however, are doing all of the cleaning themselves, according to Wagoner.

While surveying the damage, the team of judges and lawyers found a lot of broken glass, destroyed furniture and piles of ashes all through the courthouse.

"It was a tragic loss of records," Wagoner said.  "Thirty years of records lost for no good reason ? property, marriage and birth certificates -- all lost."

Court proceedings can resume once the place is refurnished with books, furniture and a little elbow grease, Wagoner added. 

"To get the legal system up and running to where it once was, I think it will take about year or two," Wagoner said.  "But in three months, I think a lot will happen with the legal system as a start of a real beginning."

The legal system is designed to handle Iraqi on Iraqi crimes.  War crimes against the United States, committed by Iraqis, will still be handled by America's legal system, according to Wagoner.

Wagoner believes that Iraqis can have a fresh start with Saddam's regime destroyed.

"This is a real example of a new day in Iraq where the heavy hand of the dictator is not over their head ready to squash them," he said.  "Once they get the oil turned on again, this place has a great chance for success."

Depending on the rehabilitation of the courthouse, the city's legal system can begin operations as early as next week, Wagoner said.

15th Marine Expeditionary Unit