United Arab Emirates firm Al Tamimi has reopened its office in Baghdad three years after the Iraqi security situation forced the firm’s lawyers in the country to withdraw.
Female lawyer Hadeel Hassan and a number of associates kept the firm’s Baghdad presence going during the intervening period by working from home.
With the growth of extremist groups targeting those working for or advising international companies and women in prominent positions, it took courage to keep things ticking over.
Hassan and fellow lawyer Nadia Salem are now reaping the benefits of an improved security situation and an overhaul of the regulatory regime.
“It’s always difficult for a woman to run such a business in Iraq,” said Hassan, who was admitted to the Iraqi Bar Association in 2001 and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the office. “[But] it’s our duty to do our business.”
Al Tamimi originally opened in Iraq in 2003, but when the security situation worsened in 2006 its local staff had to lie low.
“I think these extremist characters believe women are more easily intimidated [than men],” said Salem, a US-educated lawyer who coordinates the firm’s Iraqi team from Qatar. “It’s just a matter of personality; showing you’re not going to be cowed.”
The firm has relaunched with new offices in the Karkh district of Bagdhad, which is midway between Bagdhad International Airport and the Green Zone on the west side of the Tigris river, which runs through the capital. Things have changed so much in the past year that the firm even has a plaque on its building advertising its services.
The firm is one of the only non-US and non-Iraqi firms to be licensed to practise Iraqi law. Clients include regional and multinational corporations, contractors, investment banks, oil and gas companies and other international law firms. It advises on business set-up arrangements, investment in reconstruction projects, banking and finance, tax, property and construction and employment contracts.
Immediately following the Iraq war, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) issued an order that included immunity for foreign contractors. This meant they could not be sued and did not have to register their businesses or their people.
That changed with the expiry of the UN mandate at the end of 2008. At the start of 2009, the US and Iraq negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa). Sofa is silent on the position of foreign contractors doing business in Iraq, prompting confusion among local authorities and businesses.
Salem said: “People have been acting as if [the CPA Order] is no longer in effect, although technically the Sofa doesn’t state that.
“Companies are being stopped by Iraqi police and national security. There’s a mad rush to get incorporated – providing business [for our office].”
Hassan and Salem estimate that the Iraqi economy will continue to grow at a rate of 6 per cent for the next few years.
“[Things are] going to improve – Iraq is attracting construction companies looking for business. There are still difficulties in our lives, such as checkpoints and power cuts, but things are becoming normal,” Hassan said.