In 2008, American Lawyer staff reporter Ben Hallman traveled to Iraq for a feature story on rule of law reform efforts in the war-torn country. Among those Hallman interviewed: Washington, D.C.–based Patton Boggs public policy and international law partner David Tafuri, who took a leave of absence from the firm to serve as the U.S. Department of State rule of law coordinator in the war-torn country.
Tafuri, who writes frequently about his travels in conflict zones, spoke with Fox News last week from Baghdad, which he was visiting to mark the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion, an event marked by a wave of bombings that killed dozens. The Am Law Daily contacted Tafuri for his thoughts on his most recent trip to Iraq, where the country stands a decade after the invasion, and the war’s impact on his own life. Here, in his own words, is his response.
I remember this. That is what ran through my head on March 19 as I drove across Baghdad in an armored SUV. Bombs exploded across the city that morning, the 10-year anniversary of the U.S.–led invasion of Iraq. Unfortunately, there were those who wanted to use the anniversary to make a statement. As a result, 50 people died and more than 200 were injured, offices closed, the streets clogged with cars and checkpoints, and Baghdad was gripped with tension.
It was reminiscent of the worst times in Iraq’s capital city. I served as the U.S. Department of State’s rule of law coordinator for Iraq in 2006 and 2007—the most violent years of the Iraq war. During that time it was normal for bombs, rockets, gun battles, and vicious sectarian attacks to paralyze the city.
Although the country was in chaos when I was serving there, I felt like we made some progress. We had helped make Iraq’s judiciary more independent, introduced modern investigative techniques to law enforcement, insisted upon greater respect for due process, and built training centers, courthouses, and prisons. No, we had not achieved any semblance of a law and order society in Iraq, but we had helped to lay a foundation for the growth of the institutions the country would need if it were ultimately to be ruled by law.
When I finished my tour at the end of 2007, I wasn’t sure if I would ever visit again, but left with an unquenched curiosity for what might be possible. I returned to private practice as a partner at Patton Boggs in Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter, I found myself representing clients that needed help understanding the laws in Iraq, working directly with the Iraqi government on how to make it easier for companies to comply with its laws and regulations, and then, as security really began to improve, introducing investors to the Iraqi market and helping them execute deals there. I have since returned to Iraq many times.
I have also been able to use what I learned on the ground in Iraq to expand my practice to other conflict and postconflict countries, such as Afghanistan, Libya, and South Sudan. When the war began in Libya, I began counseling pro bono the Libyan rebels on legal and policy matters, and as a result have now become outside counsel to the new Libyan government.
Iraq has nevertheless remained an important focus for me. Many who have served find it an enormously difficult jigsaw puzzle. If you ever fit in one piece, you want to go back to see if you can fit in another. Conditions have improved a great deal. That’s obvious when you drive from Baghdad’s airport to the city.
A road that was once the most dangerous in the world—riddled with bomb craters, mangled steel, and charred vehicles—now has nicely trimmed grass, palm trees, and flowers. The number of violent attacks in Iraq is down, the economy is growing at one of the highest rates in the world, and the fragile democracy created by the 2005 constitution has bent, but never broken.
Iraq still has complicated ethnic and sectarian divisions and will continue for the foreseeable future to have occasional, unfortunate acts of extraordinary violence—as it did while I was there during the anniversary last week. Nevertheless, I am optimistic about Iraq’s future and glad I served there.
Editor’s note: The above has been condensed and edited for grammar, style, and clarity. Click here for our previous first-person narrative from a former Am Law 200 lawyer who served in Iraq.