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From his rooms on the top floor of his grandmother’s house in Baghdad, a young New York lawyer keeps a journal. It is, he said, an endless attempt to understand himself and his professional place amidst the turmoil and danger of everyday life in Iraq. Haider Ala Hamoudi, 32, was born in Columbus, Ohio, to Iraqi parents, both of whom left Baghdad for American medical educations. A graduate of Columbia Law School and a former transactional associate at Debevoise & Plimpton, where he worked in the firm’s New York, Hong Kong and Indonesian offices, Hamoudi is now assembling what he hopes is the first postwar international law firm in the capital of his ancestral land. In his earliest journal entries, Hamoudi wrote: I am a Shi’a and a Muslim, I was raised bilingually in English and Arabic, I was taught to memorize large portions of the Koran as a child, yet the first words that came to me when I entered the tombs of my family in Najaf were from a gay beat poet on an acid trip: “I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.” [From Allen Ginsberg's "Howl."] I have never considered loyalty to a piece of Earth, as opposed to a set of ideas that a country may seek to represent, as being entirely rational. A man is driven, or is called, and he goes. It is an affair of the heart as much as the head. So it was that on July 14, the 45th anniversary of Iraqi independence from its status as a British protectorate under the League of Nations, Hamoudi felt driven to make his way to Baghdad. These days, he explained in a telephone interview, the road begins in Kuwait City, in a way that puts one in mind of moody black-and-white films of foreign intrigue. “In the [Kuwait] Hilton, the lobby is full of KBR guys,” Hamoudi said, referring to fatigue-clad personnel from Kellogg, Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary contracted to repair bombed-out oil facilities and to provide housing accommodations for some 100,000 troops. “You talk to them, and then you talk to the military. You say you have business in Baghdad. Then you wait around for a few days. “I was there three days,” he added, “and spent more money than I did in three months in Baghdad.” Eventually, he left Kuwait on a C-130 transport plane. Hamoudi’s emotions on reaching Baghdad’s airport, then traveling into town by military convoy were as fearful and chaotic as the city itself. From his journal: Guns were drawn by snipers on either side of the bus, ready to fire at any moment; a mounted AK-47 on a Jeep led us; another trailed us; we were clad in bullet-proof vests and helmets … I was terrified about the prospect of getting killed, elated about seeing Iraq once more … excited about the personal and professional opportunities … anxious that I was not going to be able to enter into any conversation with any relative that did not involve when and who I was going to marry … Now that he feels somewhat ensconced — associated with a small group of Iraqi-British and Iraqi-French lawyers likewise largely drawn to Baghdad by sentiment — Hamoudi said he is increasingly able to concentrate on building business, thereby helping to construct a new nation and a new economy. “We’re very much in the early stages of forming our firm,” said Hamoudi. “We’re doing a fair amount of work through the CPA (the U.S.-British Coalition Provisional Authority) and the Iraqi Governing Council in helping on Iraqi legal issues involving private development. “There are a lot of challenges to Iraqi law, which is based on the French civil code. For instance, the whole concept of [corporate] minority shareholder rights and veto rights — they don’t exist. Cumulative voting rights don’t exist. And holding companies, per se, have not traditionally existed in Iraq,” he said. “Then you have this sort of rough-around-the-edges difficulty with CPA rulings — drafted by people not familiar with Iraqi law.” In addition, there are delicate political considerations behind any legal transaction in today’s Baghdad. “There are Iraqi business groups that to some extent had financial dealings with Saddam Hussein,” Hamoudi explained. “There are differing views on what to do about that. The extent of cooperation [with Saddam] matters.” Back in New York, a former Debevoise colleague was confident that Hamoudi would succeed despite all hurdles. “We’ve worked together on a number of matters, and I can say that he’s really an excellent lawyer,” said Pierre Maugue, 35, a French-born attorney who earned a masters degree in law at New York University School of Law. In leaving the comfort of life at Debevoise for the uncertainties of setting up shop in Baghdad, Maugue said of his friend, “What he did is gutsy, but it didn’t surprise me. Haider has a sense of adventure. He’s been in some rough places, and he’s not a guy who’s afraid of leaving the beaten path. “There is definitely lots of opportunity for lawyers in Iraq, especially in the gas and oil industries. I know a lot of people in these industries, and there are law firms organizing seminars for young lawyers who’d like to get involved,” said Maugue. “But it’s quite risky to travel there. Although I work in oil and gas, I’m not sure I’d be willing to go. “But Haider isn’t there for money, I think. He could be successful anywhere. Haider is in Iraq because of cultural affinity.” Karla G. Sanchez, a friend of Hamoudi’s and a former colleague from their days as law clerks in the Southern District, agrees. “Haider knows his religion and he knows the history of his two countries — the United States and Iraq,” said Sanchez, 33, a general litigator at Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler and a graduate of Fordham University School of Law. “He’s very American and he uses that, but not in a patronizing way. He’s worldly and open-minded. “Why did he go to Iraq? Sometimes, people just get hit with something,” she added. “They see the opportunities, they see that the time is right. The moons are aligned.” In his journal, Hamoudi explained his own personal moons by recounting the history of the majority Shi’a population of Iraq: [They] have never had the opportunity to hold any degree of power … [They] live in considerable poverty, and suffered acutely, as much as the Kurds, under the previous regime. We are, in our history of oppression, the Jews of the Muslim world.

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