Coalition Troops Teach International Law to Iraqi Forces
By Army Spc. Jaime Avila
Special to American Forces Press Service
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq, May 6, 2008 Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, along with members of the Australian army and Italian-led provincial reconstruction team of Iraq’s Dhi Qar province, teamed up recently to train Iraqi soldiers and police on international law and human rights.
Army Capt. Eric Widmar, an instructor of the Law of Armed Conflict and Human Rights course, listens as his students debate a principle of law. Members of Iraqi security forces participated in a 10-day course focused on international law. U.S. Army photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
A group of 18 Iraqi servicemembers attended a 10-day course to learn basic principles of the Law of Armed Conflict, human rights, police ethics and their legal obligations and responsibilities while conducting operations.
"The course was focused on training legal advisors and operators for the Iraqi security forces," said Army Capt. Eric Widmar, 1st Brigade Combat Team judge advocate and course instructor. "The focus was to train them on the Laws of Armed Conflict with a focus on the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions."
Many of the topics discussed during the training will prove useful as the students conduct routine patrols and missions, the captain said.
The distinction between an enemy combatant and a civilian was one of the topics. The students had to apply the principles they learned to scenarios they would likely face on the streets of Nasiriyah or elsewhere in Dhi Qar province.
"The legal obligation to distinguish between combatants and civilians, the legal obligation to care for the wounded and the treatment of detainees and other human rights subjects were taught. It's very, very relevant to these guys, given the security situation," Widmar said.
Another focus of the training was for the students to be able to train their fellow soldiers on the principles they learned in the classroom and apply them to situations they might encounter on the street.
"The whole intent of this was to enable these key leaders, legal advisors and operators and law faculty members to take this information back and train more people. It was essentially a train-the-trainer program on international law and human rights," Widmar said.
Many of the students said the course was significant and that they were glad they had the opportunity to attend.
"I think it was a successful course, and we are making use of the information that we received here during the course," Lt. Quassay Adil Thajeel al-Ataby, an Iraqi police officer who attended the course, said. "The training is very valuable, and we are planning to have these types of courses in the future with our colleagues and officers in order to teach them what we learned. It is extremely important to continue doing such courses."
For some, this was the first time they received information on some of the topics taught in the course.
"I think this course was very important, because it was the first time we've learned and received so much information on international law," said Lt. Col. Jalil Al-Kadhim, a member of the Iraqi military academy and course attendee.
In addition to teaching the principles of the Law of Armed Conflict and human rights, the course instructors provided the students with necessary materials to teach an international law course themselves.
"We provided CDs with all the materials used throughout the course. We also provided them with copies of all the Geneva and Hague conventions translated into Arabic, as well as a lot of other materials," Widmar said.
After 10 days of class time, the course ended and the students received their certificates of completion. Widmar said he was happy with the outcome of the course and saw it as a rewarding experience.
"The most rewarding experience was to sit back and hear them articulate arguments based on law instead of just raw emotion," he said.
(Army Spc. Jaime Avila, of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, serves in the Multinational Corps Iraq Public Affairs Office.)