Indeed, the rule of law has a long history in Iraq. If we look back to Madison, or perhaps to Coke and Blackstone, as the fathers of our law, the Iraqi judges can, and do, look all the way back to Hammurabi and his Code, propounded in 2100 BC, the true origin of the rule of law, not just in their fertile crescent, but in the civilized world.
In more recent centuries, what is now Iraq but was then part of the Ottoman Empire, developed what is essentially a civil law system, with codes largely derived from French models, but modified in the 20th century, first by British law when Iraq was a British protectorate, then by Sharia law when Iraq was a constitutional monarchy, and then by Socialist law, when the Ba'athists were in power. It is a complicated system, but, as I learned in meeting with the Iraqi judges, one whose basic principles would be recognizable to any Western judge.
Unfortunately, in recent decades, Iraq lost most of its professional class to 30 years of warfare, flight and terrorism, a devastating depletion that it is only slowly replenishing. Al-Qaeda, in particular, has focused its attacks not only on judges, but also on lawyers, government officials, even physicians, in an effort to destroy the very fabric of Iraqi society. But under the leadership of the chief justice, substantial efforts have been made to fill the part of this vacuum that affects the administration of justice, by appointing good new judges and passing good new laws. According to the most recent report of Stuart Bowen, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, whereas in 2003 the judicial system was "in chaos, with facilities destroyed, personnel ill-equipped to carry out the mission, and corruption rampant," the combined efforts since then of Iraqi judges and U.S. support have "contributed to a reasonably well-functioning judicial system in Iraq."
And yet the outcome of such efforts remains very much in doubt. When the last U.S. troops left Iraq just about one year ago, President Barack Obama declared that Iraq was now "sovereign, stable, and self-reliant." This, it may be suggested, was more the politics of hope than a realistic appraisal of the situation.
Iraq today is a troubled society, with large elements of instability, and an uncertain future. Violence aside, the internecine conflict among Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, and others continues unabated, its watchwords being suspicion and revenge.
But how can you put violence aside, when, literally, not a day passes without car-bombings and political assassinations throughout Iraq? If you think I exaggerate, please go to the American-and-British-based website entitled "Iraq Body Count," which reports each day's carnage. The day I arrived in Baghdad, 30 people were assassinated in Iraq. On the day I left, it was "only" 12 people. Overall, during 2012, there was an average of 18 bombings and 53 violent deaths per week in Iraq. How can a country of 31 million people expect to maintain stability, let alone attract foreign investment, in these conditions?
And yet, there are surprising, and welcome, signs of progress. By creating their own mini-"Green Zones," foreign oil firms such as BP, Exxon-Mobil, Occidental, and several Chinese firms have felt free to invest large sums in Iraqi oil production. The result is that, even though the great bulk of Iraq's vast oil wealth remains untapped, in 2012 more oil was exported from Iraq than from any other country in the world except Saudi Arabia. Overall, according to the World Bank, Iraqi GDP grew by 12 percent in 2012, fueling, in turn, a rapid expansion of the consumer sector. And the Kurdish provinces of Iraq, which are relatively more stable than the others, have begun to attract foreign investment unrelated to oil.
It is apparent that a necessary, if not sufficient condition of a peaceful and prosperous future for Iraq lies in commercial development in general, and foreign investment in particular. A critical component of any such development is the rule of law.
That is why the so-far-successful progress of the Iraqi International Commercial Court is such a promising step. And the further fact that it has been created by judges who, on a daily basis, put their lives on the line by just being judges, is worthy of respect, and awe.
While most of the credit goes to the courageous Iraqi judges, I would be remiss if I did not single out the efforts of the U.S. government, including the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, in supporting the Iraqi courts in everything from helping them build secure courthouses and compounds to educating their judges in the niceties of modern international commercial law. U.S. private enterprise, especially the banking industry, has also been helpful in such training.