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Two dozen lawyers working for the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad face the daily challenge of trying to build a government on the fly while bombs fall and mortar rounds whiz by. Even the best security precautions “can’t guard against rocket and mortar attacks,” says E. Scott Castle, who leads the multinational team as general counsel of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. “And we’ve experienced many [attacks], as even hastily launched, crudely guided volleys occasionally find their mark.” In fact, says Castle, the attacks’ regularity “reminded us of the ’5 o’clock Charlie’ character in the old “M*A*S*H” television series — the North Korean pilot whose predictable and generally off-target bombings became a running theme.” For Castle’s team of lawyers, many of them on loan to the CPA from U.S. law firms and government agencies, survival is the first priority. The attorneys wear body armor and Kevlar helmets while traveling outside the heavily fortified U.S. compound known as the Green Zone to interview Iraqi academics, lawyers and politicians. They leave the zone only in armed convoys. Beyond merely staying alive in a war zone, the lawyers have a formidable legal assignment: helping the CPA build an Iraqi government that will hold together after the United States hands over sovereignty on June 30. After a year of 18-hour workdays, seven days a week, the 24-lawyer team still faces a daunting set of tasks this month. Still remaining on the team’s to-do list: “graduating” several Iraqi ministries by declaring them ready to function without U.S. supervision; forming an elections commission; and continuing their efforts to recover more than $2 billion in Iraqi assets from overseas. And the group’s work won’t be done at the end of June. It will continue to function as the legal staff of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and will try to put more Iraqi government departments online, get elections under way in early 2005, and attract foreign investment. Last week, its efforts proved instrumental when the CPA announced, amid the sound of gunfire and fighter jets, the formation of an interim Iraqi government. “What we are doing is really unprecedented,” says the 51-year-old Castle, a University of Virginia law graduate who was deputy general counsel at the Department of Defense before his assignment in Iraq. “We perform our duties not as a traditional occupier but as an occupier that is also a nation-builder.” A LONG WAY FROM WASHINGTON Castle says his group worked with United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to draft the legal framework for the June 30 transfer of control and to prepare the documents that will formally end the occupation and give full authority to an Iraqi-led government. The process has not always been smooth. Last week, Brahimi told reporters in Iraq that U.S. Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III remains in charge of the transition in government, calling Bremer “the dictator of Iraq.” Observers inside and outside government say lawyers’ efforts are particularly needed in Iraq. After the decades-long rule of Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party corrupted Iraq’s legal and judicial system, the U.S.-led coalition needs to restore fairness and stability to Iraqi law if that nation is to have a chance of attracting foreign investment and remaining viable. Castle’s team includes American, Iraqi, British and Australian attorneys, military and civilian, on loan from the government and from private law firms. Castle, an Army Reserve brigadier general , has served as CPA general counsel since May 2003. The team often seems to be working against serious odds. In the past few weeks, in the wake of anti-American violence and continuing revelations about abuse of Iraqi detainees, the climate of opinion has worsened in Iraq and in the United States. Many observers now wonder whether the yearlong U.S. occupation will end in failure. Says Neil Kritz, director of the Rule of Law Program at the U.S. Institute of Peace: “In the midst of turmoil, it’s very hard to move forward on [legal] issues. But it’s still essential to make progress on both fronts — law and basic security — because they are interdependent. Establishing the rule of law is part of what is necessary to reduce the level of violence.” Castle says that his Baghdad-based team of attorneys, which includes lawyers on loan from the departments of State, Justice, Commerce, Treasury and Labor and from several law firms, has made significant progress in accomplishing a monumental task. Linda Lourie, an attorney at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, is in charge of developing a modern system of intellectual property law for Iraq in order to encourage foreign private investment. She drafted three laws — one each for patents, trademarks and copyrights. Wade Green of the Department of Labor has written a draft of a new Iraqi labor law. An attorney familiar with the draft says that originally, it was planned as a top-to-bottom rewrite of all aspects of labor law, but because time is short, it will focus only on immediate problems like slave labor and child labor. Eric Pelofsky, an attorney-adviser at the State Department, has helped draft a new corporations code. And Brett McGurk, an associate at the D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis and a former law clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist, is spearheading administrative law issues for Castle’s group. CPA attorneys, Castle says, have reopened Iraqi trial courts, drafted orders for Bremer that establish everything from traffic codes to securities law, and recovered about $750 million for Iraqi citizens from accounts abroad. It is, as one might expect in a war zone, very dangerous work. Though headquartered in Saddam’s Republican Presidential Palace and protected by troops and 12-foot concrete walls, the lawyers have often had to leave the compound to meet with Iraqi attorneys, academics, civil servants and businesspersons, Castle says. “We travel in convoys with armed ‘shooters’ assigned to each vehicle,” Castle says. “Convoy operations are well-understood by our military attorneys, but maintaining operational security at the high levels required by the U.S. military is a new demand for our young civilian colleagues. Most received at least a brief exposure to military equipment, weapons and protective tactics during Iraq orientation classes before their deployment, but the transition to actual practice in a war zone is unavoidably sobering.” LAW AMONG THE RUINS Despite the danger, much of what Castle and his team are doing in Baghdad isn’t glamorous or adventure-packed. Castle ticks off a list of priorities that are both mundane and essential to the mission of bringing the rule of law to Iraq. “We identify impediments in current Iraqi law that prevent democracy or economic progress,” he says. Castle says the transition will not occur all at once when June 30 arrives. The idea is to avoid a sudden “shock to the system.” One of the key issues is creating the government agencies that will run the country. Eleven of 24 ministries — including Planning and Development and Interior �- have graduated from U.S. control, and three more are expected to do so by June 30. The final 10 ministries won’t be ready before the transition date and will have to demonstrate competence after the deadline. Castle’s group is also laying the groundwork for elections slated for early 2005. Although voting is still several months off, “the legal structure has to be in place for electoral activity by June 30,” Castle says. No one has yet written the rule book for nation-building. And the legal team has relatively little experience in that task, in spite of the many hours it has worked and how well-versed as it is in U.S. law. Many say Iraq is the largest effort to create a functioning democracy since the end of World War II. “Even the best 25 people in the world will have a huge job on their hands,” says Victoria Holt, a former State Department policy adviser on peacekeeping and the United Nations and now senior associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a D.C.-based national security and foreign policy think tank. “We’re still learning how to do this. It’s just now becoming clear how vital these legal and judicial tasks are in a post-conflict environment to ensure stability and security.” There is, however, something of a “rule book” for occupation under international law. A 1907 Hague Regulation provides that an occupying nation is supposed to leave the law of the occupied country intact to the extent possible. “The threshold question is how consistent this is with the requirements of international law,” says Noah Feldman, a New York University law professor who spent two months in Baghdad last year as a senior adviser to the CPA. “What they are doing is a relatively comprehensive revision of Iraqi law, especially as it relates to business development. I see this as an aggressive interpretation of the rules.” Feldman adds that as one who helped to develop the U.S. legal position, he is not being critical of it. Commercial law is a particularly high priority for the team, and Castle has been able to tap lawyers for specific projects based on their expertise back home. Says Ruth Wedgwood, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies: “In order to have any foreign investment by multinational corporations, you must have laws on the books that guarantee against expropriation and things of that sort. It’s absolutely crucial.” Even beyond the constant threat of attack by car bomb or rifle shot, the lawyers work in conditions that they never saw in their office towers or government buildings. They live in small four-person trailers fortified by neatly stacked sandbags. They essentially are on duty all their waking hours. Castle says a major challenge will be to keep up the momentum even after June 30 has come and gone. “We are looking at ways in which the CPA orders now in effect will have continuity under the new Iraqi government, so we don’t have disconnects,” he says. “There’s a lot of planning going on now in Baghdad to make sure that the new prime minister is fully briefed. “I think there’s a very valuable role for U.S. attorneys to play in Iraq following the occupation,” says Castle. “It’s incumbent upon us to provide the follow-on technical advice, so that what we have done so far doesn’t become a dead letter.”

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