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Institute of Land Warfare >> Dispatches from the Front >> New Courthouse in Kirkuk: Operations Improve, Builds Confidence Email this... Email    Print this Print

New Courthouse in Kirkuk: Operations Improve, Builds Confidence

Story and Photos by
Spc. Mike Alberts
3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs

Col. Patrick T. Stackpole (right), commander, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and Mr. Ritzgar Ali (left), chairman, Kirkuk Provincial Council, cut the ceremonial ribbon during the grand opening of the Dibis Courthouse, Dibis, Iraq, May 21.

The problem isn’t competent professionals. Judges and lawyers in the Kirkuk Province are well-educated, well-trained and experienced. The problem lies in a justice system suffering from decades of neglected infrastructure and weakened public perception.

Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and regional and local government leaders participated in the grand opening of the Dibis Courthouse in Dibis, Iraq, May 21. All are optimistic that this new facility will address the problems of both neglect and perception in this northern Iraqi town.

The compound includes a two-story building that contains a short term holding cell, office and courtroom space for two judges, an office for judicial investigators, a room dedicated for visiting attorneys, rooms for approximately two dozen judicial security force officers and administrative space, according to Maj. Gary Johnson, command judge advocate, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

“The building is really like any county courthouse you might find back in the States,” said Johnson. “Judges will handle criminal and civil matters that run the gamut from property law and domestic law issues to personal injury matters [among other things],” he said. “However, it’s a significant upgrade from where legal matters were being handled.”

According to Johnson, court was previously held in nothing more than a garage-like structure. The new compound addresses not only the local judiciary’s physical needs, but also a less visible need – the need for the citizens to better respect their system of justice.

“This new building is symbolic. It conveys to the people that the ‘rule of law’ is important,” said Johnson. His brigade and Iraqi colleagues agreed.

“Iraq has a foundation for the ‘rule of law’ as it’s called. It has a codified judicial system, and a legislature and government based on that system,” said Capt. Duane Kees, brigade judge advocate, 3IBCT. “Through the Saddam Era, the country lost it, didn’t abide by it and strayed from it when it was in their best interest to do so,” said Kees. “We’re trying to help Iraqi citizens have faith again in their laws by improving a legal system that can be trusted.”

The courthouse symbolizes that new foundation for the citizens of Dibis.

“The courthouse provides the ability to have trials where the people can see their system function which will give them faith and confidence in the system,” continued Kees. “In decades past, defendants were often shipped away to other regions for court which caused the community to lose visibility. Not only is it hard to trust in something that you cannot see, but you can lose some of the purposes of punishment like deterrence and retribution when you remove a defendant,” he continued.

For Kees, the courthouse also provides needed accountability. “If defendants disappear the people don’t know whether the government handled the crime correctly. Now, in Dibis, citizens will see their system work.”

The importance of the new facility for the Dibis community was also acknowledged by local leaders. Ceremony attendees included Mr. Ritzgar Ali, chairman, Kirkuk Provincial Council, Chief Justice Dhaher Hamza Saman, chief judge, Kirkuk Province, Mr. Hadi Hama Mostafa, Dibis Mayor, other local and regional government representatives and dozens of local citizens.

“We are grateful for the assistance of the Provincial Reconstruction Team and the [Coalition Forces],” said Mr. Ritzgar Ali, chairman, KPC, through an interpreter. “This courthouse [reflects] the new Iraq, a constitutional Iraq and an Iraq of law and order,” he said. “By this building, [we are saying that lawless] oppression and persecution is a thing of the past.”