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The Road to Justice in Iraq

As questions continue to mount concerning the true rationale behind the Iraq war, we should avoid only looking backwards. Examining the US-led coalition's prewar actions may well expose official deception and manipulation in making the case for military intervention. But the nagging questions about the campaign's legitimacy lie less in the past, and more in the ongoing absence of virtually any semblance of the rule of law in Iraq.

Today, the domestic security vacuum in Iraq is so profound that it calls into question whether the war is really over. Guerrilla attacks on coalition soldiers show that no neat line separates ``before'' and ``after.'' So does the disturbing continuity between the absence of legality prior to the occupation and now, under the formal authority of the occupying powers. After all, it is the rule of law--and only the rule of law--that distinguishes free societies from dictatorships.

Coalition military officials recognize the obvious: without proof of Saddam Hussein's demise, resistance by his hardcore supporters would inevitably continue. But what about the need for a wider reckoning with the former regime? Is justice for the victims and perpetrators of Saddam's crimes any less important for separating Iraq's past from the present and the future?

So far, security and law enforcement have been utterly inadequate to deal with past abuses. Given decades of repressive rule, and tens of thousands of disappeared Iraqis, there are already endemic problems of verification. But from the outset of the intervention, coalition officials have displayed patent disregard for mass graves and massacre sites. Chaotic excavation and exhumation--often by family members desperate to learn the fate of loved ones--and unprofessional treatment of the evidence aggravates the challenges of uncovering the truth.