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Iraqi judges tell a story of a time when Iraq was ruled by a wise king. He was universally revered and well served by the judges of his kingdom, who were looked upon as God’s messengers on earth. So great was the respect of the king for his judges that when he entered a room where they were seated, he remained standing and did not ask them to stand. When he left the room, as a sign of respect he walked backward so he would not turn his back on them. I recently had the privilege of teaching 50 Iraqi judges seeking to develop that same respect by the people of their country. They were from every part of Iraq and represented all ranks of the judiciary. The Iraqi judges all came from backgrounds that would test anyone’s courage and determination. Most travel only with bodyguards within Iraq. One judge had recently seen two of his bodyguards killed while protecting him from an assault. The course was titled, “Judging in a New Democratic Society,” taught at the Prague CEELI (Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative) Institute of the American Bar Association. It is funded by the British government and coordinated through the Swedish-based International Law Assistance Consortium. Financial assistance was also provided by the Czech ministry of foreign affairs. This was a continuation of a project at the institute that has presented variations of the course many times since 2000 for judges from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. As fellow teachers, I had two American and two international colleagues, all experienced lawyers and judges. A wide-ranging curriculum We taught judicial ethics, public access to courts, dealing with the media, general sources of international law, international human-rights law, relations with other branches of government and concepts of judicial independence. Two previously scheduled institute sessions had been canceled because security could not be guaranteed to and from the Baghdad airport. The institute offered an opportunity for learning, far away from this turmoil. Security provided by the Czech government was unobtrusive but effective. One judge asked in jest if we planned to grade them on completion of the course. When asked why, he replied he wanted to fail so he could be retained and forced to stay longer in Prague! And who could blame him? They will return to conditions little known to most other jurists of this world. They are still seeking the basics of law and order while the daily grist of everyday disputes, including criminal matters and property arguments, must be settled somehow. In spite of all of these problems awaiting them, the judges were remarkably good students. They were prompt, paid full attention to the voluminous reading required, were full participants in classroom discussions and prepared their homework assignments faithfully. One of the techniques used in the class was to ask participants to prepare a personal action plan for what they would do on their return to Iraq. These reports were given at the end of the session and confirmed that the judges had absorbed what we were attempting to teach. The judges were sensitive to ethics issues and spent time discussing them. Their comments focused on proper behavior that would not bring disgrace to the role of the judge-such as not utilizing their post for private benefit, adhering to neutrality toward all parties, never accepting gifts of help from a party and never belonging to a political party or engaging in a private business. The problems for some judges were more practical. One told of coming home to study for a case he was to hear the next day and finding a goat tethered in his front yard. He was even more perplexed when he found another goat the next morning, presumably from the other party in the case. A strong sense of the need for financial integrity was expressed by the class, as well as support for removing judges who could not meet those standards. A history of repression The judges dedicated themselves to being the best they could be in the face of a history of repression and the current chaos. Many had been jailed or had resigned under the old regime. All faced the random terror so common during those times. One lawyer told of a family dinner where the body of his oldest brother, who was killed in the war against Iran, was dumped in the family yard. His mother passed away shortly after that, as did his father. The lawyer, who was then a young boy and the oldest surviving son at 15, was forced to take two jobs to support the family and to continue with his education. Stories of this nature were not uncommon. When I asked them about their emotional state from the successive blows they have endured, they simply replied: “We can stand no more tragedies.” At my first meeting with this group of judges, I did not know what to expect. I was aware of deep feelings on the part of some Iraqis toward Americans stemming from the current death and destruction occurring in their country. After two weeks of sharing, discussion and joint learning, I left feeling I had acquired 50 new brothers who shared a common aim of building a country and world where the rule of law could be achieved. At our last dinner together, the two leading judges of the Kurdish and Iraqi judiciary gave me their personal prayer beads as a token of respect and affection. Their feelings were reciprocated. I can only hope they reach their goal of rebuilding the Iraqi judiciary to the point that it enjoys the respect that it had in the story of the ancient king. Robert F. Utter is a retired justice and former chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court.

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