U.S. laws will rule Iraq’s leaders

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. led-coalition, facing a Wednesday deadline to hand back power in Iraq, has put in place major legal revisions that would force Iraqis to get driver’s licenses, obey traffic laws, ban certain people from holding office and place American contractors above the law.

Mahmoud Othman, a member of the disbanded U.S.-picked Governing Council, said he thinks the Americans began pushing the flurry of laws once it became clear the occupation would be cut short.

Proponents say the sheaf of edicts signed by occupation chief Paul Bremer are the best way to ensure one of the top U.S. goals in invading Iraq: to leave behind a functioning democracy with a base of liberal institutions such as an independent judiciary, civil society and free market economy.

Especially irksome for Iraqi leaders is the fact that the occupier’s edicts will remain in force after the occupation ends – including laws that curtail the powers of the incoming government.

“We would prefer that Iraqis decide on their own laws,” Othman said. “This isn’t the way to run a country that isn’t your country.”

As Iraq’s highest authority, Bremer has issued more than 100 orders and regulations, many of them Western-style laws governing everything from bankruptcy and traffic, to restrictions on child labor and copying movies.

Some are likely to be ignored. One law requires at least a month in jail for people caught driving without a license – something many Iraqis do not have. Another demands that drivers stay in a single lane, a rule widely ignored in Iraq’s chaotic streets.

Others are more controversial. On Saturday, Bremer signed an edict that gives U.S. and other Western civilian contractors immunity from Iraqi law while performing their jobs in Iraq. The idea outrages many Iraqis, including Othman, who said the law allows foreigners to act with impunity even after the occupation.

The Coalition Provisional Authority’s laws remain in effect after the occupation ends unless rescinded or revised by the interim government, a task that another Bremer-signed law allows, but only after a difficult process.

The elected Iraqi government that takes office next year will be freer to rewrite or throw out the Bremer laws.

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