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On a Friday afternoon in early April, while many of his partners in Washington, D.C., are in their M Street offices staring at computer screens or on Capitol Hill twisting arms, Patton Boggs partner Timothy Mills is whizzing through the streets of Baghdad. With the city center under mortar fire, he finds an Internet cafe in a more remote area to connect up with the office. A U.S. Army reservist, Mills, 53, had nearly deployed to Iraq during the most active phase of the war. His division was not called up, but duty called anyway. Clients, he says, were on the phone, saying, “We have an interest in Iraq. Will you consider advising us?” He would. Mills first went to Baghdad last July, and has been there more than a dozen times since. His work has run the gamut from advising Arkel International Inc., a prime logistics contractor in Iraq, on contractor regulations, to meeting with potential Iraqi clients. Mills is not alone, but he’s not exactly getting crowded by competitors either. He is one of a handful of U.S. and U.K. private-sector lawyers who have set foot in Iraq during the tumultuous months of the U.S. occupation. Others have simply toiled on Iraq work from afar. After major combat was declared over on May 1, 2003, such firms as Patton Boggs, Pillsbury Winthrop, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and Piper Rudnick set up Iraq reconstruction practices. While the firms weren’t all clamoring to hang a shingle in Iraq, the new practice groups could help clients tap in to the billions of dollars the U.S. government had promised for contractors rebuilding the country. And those clients were eagerly awaiting the day when they could make direct investments in Iraq: build a power plant, drill for oil, or open a hotel. Who better to structure those investments than U.S. law firms? But of course, things in Iraq haven’t worked out quite as planned. Those much-touted Iraq reconstruction groups are hardly a billable bonanza. As the deadline for handing over sovereignty in Iraq approaches, American lawyers are continuing to help their clients through the bad times. They are just hoping there will be some good times, too. Firms that have made inroads in Iraq fall into two broad categories. Says James Loftis, cochair of the Iraq “task force” at Houston’s Vinson & Elkins: “Some people focus on American government contracts. Some focus on the region itself. We’re all trying to leverage off our strengths in some way or another.” The U.S.-based work is “government contracts-plus,” says Robert Nichols, of counsel in the D.C. office of Piper Rudnick. The “plus” part comes from advising clients who are working in a war zone. Nichols, who declines to name his clients, says the advice includes: How and when can contractors hire Iraqis? How can they be sure they aren’t hiring Baathists? How can they make sure they comply with export controls — like what software to carry on a laptop? Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, on the other hand, has gotten an in through telecom and regulatory expertise. In July 2003 the firm was hired as a subcontractor to consultancy BearingPoint, Inc., which won a government-sponsored contract to plan the Iraqi economy. Squire Sanders has helped by drafting telecommunications regulations and a bankruptcy code. Joseph Markoski, head of Squire Sanders’s D.C. office, says the firm also hopes to advise clients on potential commercial projects, including a real estate deal. “It’s a fairly ambitious real estate development project in Baghdad, involving people who had property that they did not lose under Hussein, but that they want to develop now,” Markoski says. (Markoski declined to name the client.) Firms with large Middle East practices, such as White & Case, Bryan Cave, and V&E, ultimately hope to usher multinational and Middle Eastern clients into Iraq if and when large-scale investment projects get going. V&E’s Loftis says firm clients in the energy and telecommunications sectors are considering investments but adds, “Until there’s a sovereign in place, no one is going to sign up to bring billions of dollars onshore.” Alexander Kritzalis, head of White & Case’s Middle East practice, says a handful of Turkish companies have approached the firm about working in Iraq, particularly in construction, but they are also waiting for some clarity in the political situation. Indeed, how fast and how far new investment projects can proceed after the handover is anyone’s guess. There is the obvious security situation. And the stability of the commercial market is also ambiguous. Current laws, as promulgated by the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority, are favorable to foreign investors. They allow, for example, foreign investors to own 100 percent of a company in Iraq. But a new government could modify these laws, or introduce an element of Shariah, Islamic law. “From an investor’s standpoint, I believe we’re talking about 18 months minimum to get the lay of the land,” says Mark Riedy, cohead of the Iraq reconstruction practice in the D.C. office of Pillsbury Winthrop. As for Patton Boggs’s Mills, he isn’t waiting those 18 months. He says clients are still considering setting up joint ventures and privatization projects. And he doesn’t expect to cut down on his travel to Iraq.

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