By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
July 23, 2007 - Projects being funded through Iraqi reconstruction relief funds are providing critical facilities for Iraq's government to establish rule of law, senior officials in Baghdad told reporters. "Great, great accomplishments" are taking place on the construction front to support this effort, Navy Cmdr. Johnny Wolfe, a subsector lead for the Army Corps of Engineer's Gulf Region Division, said during a July 21 media roundtable.
About 70 percent of the $506 million Iraqi reconstruction relief fund budget has been spent to build or renovate courthouses, corrections facilities, police and fire stations and training academies, a witness protection facility, and other related structures, Wolf said.
Of 273 projects planned, 257 have been completed, and the others are moving forward quickly, Wolfe said.
Among key projects is a penal facility in Nasariyah, now about 63 percent completed, that will hold up to 800 inmates and another prison facility to be started soon that will help relieve chronic prison shortages, he said.
Courthouse renovations and construction are enabling Iraq to hold more trials, he said. In addition, a new fire station training academy in the International Zone will soon give the Iraqi government its first class of trained firefighters, he said.
James Santelle, a legal attache at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said these structures are critical to the larger effort to create an Iraqi judicial system that's ruled by law.
Santelle called the police force "the cornerstone of the rule of law" and said efforts under way will ensure it is professional and respected by the Iraqi people. "What we are trying to establish with the Iraqis is the notion that citizens of this country should feel confident and proud to work with police," he said.
Police academies will ensure future generations of Iraqis also have a police force that is trained in forensics and able to provide a safe, secure environment for the population, he said.
Courtroom renovations and construction will give Iraqi judges the forum to enforce the law in a way that's just and protects the rights of the Iraqi people, he said. Santelle noted that civil courts will enable Iraqis to resolve property claims against each other, family disputes and other civil cases in a fair, equitable and nonviolent manner.
New witness protection facilities will assure critical witnesses of their safety both before and after they testify, he said. Newly constructed or renovated corrections facilities and professionally trained staffs to run them will ensure inmates are treated humanely in safe, secure facilities, he said.
Ultimately, Santelle said, the projects are helping Iraq build the institutions it needs to provide a fair, equitable justice system to its people. "Through all of that, the rule of law is delivered to the citizens of Iraq, and they can be assured that justice throughout this entire process is guaranteed and safeguarded," he said.