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BAGHDAD — Spokesmen for coalition forces in Iraq announced the opening of a newly established “Rule of Law Complex” in an undisclosed area of downtown Baghdad, saying recent criminal hearings there were a small step forward for Iraq’s legal system.

The top spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq also told reporters at a weekly press conference in the Green Zone that the coalition will continue to conduct talks with insurgent groups who were willing to lay down arms and join the political process.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV told reporters Wednesday that there had been an ongoing effort to establish a dialogue with insurgent groups who were “looking to reconcile and work toward a unified Iraq. Coalition forces are willing and do participate in those efforts,” he said.

The comments came during a regularly scheduled news conference in which Caldwell and other coalition officers touted recent criminal hearings held in the newly established legal complex in an unspecified area of the capital’s sprawling Rusafa District, east of the Tigris River.

The hearings, held April 2, focused on two unnamed criminal suspects. The first was an alleged Sunni al-Qaida operative who has been accused of murdering scores of Shiite civilians. The second was a Shiite Iraqi National Police officer who has been accused of torturing and abusing Sunni detainees.

“The rule of law is a principal of governance that holds that your fate depends not on who you are — what religion or tribe you belong to — but what you did,” said Col. Mark S. Martins, a staff judge advocate. “No one is saying that the rule of law prevails in Iraq at this time, but this is a step forward.”

The opening of the complex — the planned nucleus of a civil and criminal law system — coincides with the launch of Iraq’s new Baghdad security plan, a campaign aimed at halting a bloody sectarian feud between warring Sunni and Shiite Muslims here.

The complex features protected housing for judges, court officials and their families. Such protection was critical, officials said, because at least 25 judges have been killed in Iraq to date.

“Without an effective judiciary, it doesn’t matter how effective the Iraqi police are,” said British Army Brig. Gen. Rob Weighill, who has assisted with the development of Iraq’s Interior Ministry and specifically its police.


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