War on Terrorism

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

On the Ground: U.S. Forces Help Iraqis Establish Rule of Law

American Forces Press Service

March 3, 2009 - U.S. forces in Iraq are contributing to a new system of law and order there, equipping police stations with the latest investigatory equipment and building courthouses. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently dedicated a state-of-the-art crime lab at the police station in Basra. The Wasit Provincial Reconstruction Team just broke ground for a new provincial courthouse, and criminal investigators in Tikrit received new kits to process forensic evidence.

Basra law enforcement professionals welcomed the opening of a newly renovated forensics laboratory, thanks to a $263,000 Corps of Engineers project. The five-month project improves investigators' ability to effectively analyze crime scene evidence and solve crimes, officials said.

"The completed project provides Basra a great facility to conduct criminal forensics," said Arthur Davey, project engineer with the USACE's Gulf Region Division. "The evidence they collect at a crime scene -- such as DNA, fingerprints, fiber and ballistics -- can now be processed in a clean, efficient workplace with improved equipment and fixtures safeguarding the integrity of their findings."

Robert Vanoer, the USACE Basra area engineer, said this project represents an important step toward developing a strong rule of law in Basra and throughout Iraq. The Gulf Region Division has completed more than 300 other projects related to security and justice, including border posts, point of entry facilities, fire stations, courthouses and correctional facilities.

In other projects, officials from the Wasit Provincial Reconstruction Team and the 41st Fires Brigade attended a ceremony in the province's capital of Hayy to mark the start of construction on a new $330,000 courthouse there.

The construction comes at time of great change in the Iraqi judicial process, as outlined at a recent "Rule of Law" conference in Baghdad. The conference highlighted Iraq's progress in establishing the new Interior Ministry court system as Iraq moves from a confessionary-based legal system to one based on evidence and enforcing the rule of law. Under the confessionary system, defendants can be convicted on their own confession, without any evidence presented.

The ministry's internal security forces court system, established in July, focuses on crimes committed by police officers. Its use will increase the public's trust in the police by ensuring that no one is above the law, officials said.

Maj. Gen. Saad al-Hindawi, the Iraqi Interior Ministry's chief counsel and legal advisor, told the audience at the rule-of-law conference that establishment of procedural law and a penal code for the internal security forces was last year's most important legislation. The two laws established a court system for the ministry, which now has regional courts in Irbil, Mosul, Baghdad, Hilla and Basra. The courts began operations in late July after extensive training for all judges.

Hindawi said that 1,047 cases were referred to the internal security forces court system. Another 6,000 cases were referred to the civilian court system, 4,200 of which were for corruption, he said.

"Eleven short months ago, we were fighting the insurgency on these very streets," Army Col. Richard Francey, 41st Fires Brigade commander, said. "Today, the placing of the first stone and the building of a new courthouse represents the rule of law and the protection of human rights."

Meanwhile, crime scene investigators in Salahuddin province received 16 forensic-evidence processing kits Feb. 25 to enhance their crime scene evaluations throughout the region. The kits were presented by the 733rd Military Police Battalion and other Multinational Division North personnel at the Joint Expeditionary Forensic Facility on Contingency Operating Base Speicher.

The investigation kits are part of a provincewide initiative to establish a unified and capable Iraqi police force.

"The contents in the investigation kits are the same materials you could find in a patrol car back in the United States -- different-sized paper, plastic bags to collect evidence, digital cameras to document a crime scene, pens and pencils for diagram purposes, fingerprint powder and brushes, and crime scene tape to mark off a crime scene -- the basic elements for the Iraqi police to perform their job," said Special Agent Dave Elkins, 733rd Military Police Battalion, who works at the lab.

(Compiled from Multinational Corps Iraq and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers news releases. Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Thompson of Multinational Division Central and A. Al Bahrani of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division's Gulf Region South district contributed to this report.)

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