Criminal Justice System

Iraq Table of Contents

The regular criminal justice system consisted of courts of first instance (including magistrate courts), courts of sessions, and a Court of Cassation. Major crimes against state security were tried in the revolutionary courts, which operated separately from the regular judicial system. In general this court system followed the French pattern as first introduced during the rule of the Ottoman Turks, although the system had undergone several modifications during the twentieth century. Juries were not used anywhere in the Iraqi criminal court system.

Most petty crimes, or contraventions, which carried penalties of imprisonment from one day to three months or of fines up to ID30, were tried in local magistrate courts. These third-class courts, which were found in all local municipalities, were presided over by municipal council members or by other local administrative officials. First- and second-class criminal matters, which corresponded to felonies and to misdemeanors, respectively, were tried within appropriate penal courts attached to civil courts of first instance, located in provincial capitals and in district and subdistrict centers. Misdemeanors were punishable by three months' to five years' imprisonment; felonies by five years' to life imprisonment or by the death penalty. One judge conducted the trials for criminal matters at each of these courts of original jurisdiction.

In 1986 the six courts of session continued to hold jurisdiction in the most serious criminal matters, and they acted as courts of appeal in relation to lower penal or magistrate courts. Four of these courts were identical to the civil courts of appeal; two were presided over by local judges from the courts of first instance. Three judges heard cases tried in the courts of session.

The Court of Cassation was the state's highest court for criminal matters. At least three judges were required to be present in its deliberations, and in cases punishable by death, five judges were required. The Court of Cassation also served as the highest court of appeals, and it confirmed, reduced, remitted, or suspended sentences from lower courts. It assumed original jurisdiction over crimes committed by judges or by highranking government officials.

The revolutionary courts, composed of three judges, sat permanently in Baghdad to try crimes against the security of the state; these crimes were defined to include espionage, treason, smuggling, and trade in narcotics. Sessions were held in camera, and the right of defense reportedly was severely restricted. It was also believed that regular judicial procedures did not apply in these special courts, summary proceedings being common.

On several occasions during the 1970s--after the attempted coups of 1970 and of 1973, after the 1977 riots in An Najaf and in Karbala, and after the 1979 conspiracy against the regime--the RCC decreed the establishment of special temporary tribunals to try large numbers of security offenders en masse. Each of these trials was presided over by three or four high government officials who, not being bound by ordinary provisions of criminal law, rendered swift and harsh sentences. In 1970 fifty-two of an estimated ninety accused persons were convicted, and thirty-seven of these were executed during three days of proceedings. It was believed that about thirty-five had been sentenced to death and about twenty had been acquitted, during two days of trials in 1973. In a one-day trial in 1977, eight were sentenced to death, and fifteen were sentenced to life imprisonment; eighty-seven persons were believed to have been acquitted. Thirty-eight Iraqis were executed between May 24 and May 27, 1978. The majority of them were members of the armed forces, guilty of political activity inside the military. An additional twenty-one leading members of the party, including ministers, trade union leaders, and members of the RCC, were tried in camera and executed in 1979. In general, those sentenced to death were executed, either by hanging or by firing squad, immediately after the trials.

Administered by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the penal system was dominated by the central prison at Abu Ghurayb near Baghdad, which housed several thousand prisoners, and by three smaller branch prisons located in the governorates of Al Basrah, Babylon, and Nineveh. Additional detention centers were located throughout the country. In early 1988, it was impossible to determine the full number of imprisonments in Iraq.

Internal security was a matter of ongoing concern for Iraq in the late 1980s. The end of the war with Iran would presumably bring opportunities for liberalizing the security restrictions imposed by the Baathist regime.

English-language literature on the subject of Iraqi national security was scarce in 1988, largely because of the government's almost obsessive secrecy with respect to security affairs and because of the Iran-Iraq War. Frederick W. Axelgard's Iraq in Transition: A Political, Economic, and Strategic Perspective was the most comprehensive and up-to-date study of the subject in 1988. Majid Khadduri's Socialist Iraq, dealing with military and security affairs in the larger context of post-1968 political developments, continued to be indispensable. Mohammad A. Tarbush's The Role of the Military in Politics: A Case Study of Iraq to 1941, and Hanna Batatu's The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq, provided invaluable background information. The rapid growth, in both manpower and equipment, of Iraq's armed forces was best documented in the annual The Military Balance, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Accounts by Efraim Karsh in The Iran-Iraq War, and a series of articles by Anthony H. Cordesman, thoroughly discussed the IranIraq War. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography).

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress