UB, Iraq university sign deal

Partnership allows law schools to offer exchange programs

November 29, 2007|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

The University of Baltimore's School of Law and a university in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, Iraq, have signed the first formal partnership between law schools in the two countries, officials announced yesterday.

Under the agreement, UB law students might one day study in Iraq - where the rule of law was enshrined in the Code of Hammurabi more than 4,000 years ago. However, for security reasons, the first step will more likely be to bring Iraqis here for graduate legal study and research, said the law school's dean, Phillip J. Closius.

"We think it has a strong symbolic importance in the effort to stabilize what's going on in Iraq," Closius said. "It also helps us to enrich our programs in Baltimore."

The partnership is with the University of Tikrit School of Law, the only law school in the mostly-Sunni Salah ad Din province in north-central Iraq. It has about 700 students, who complete a four-year legal undergraduate curriculum.

The law school deans and university presidents signed a memorandum of understanding Tuesday morning, during a videoconference attended by senior U.S. and Iraqi officials in Tikrit, including the provincial governor and the head of the regional council of sheiks.

Tikrit law dean Amer Ayash described the partnership as "a step apart and away from violence, to build institutions, which is the beginning of a true, lawful situation in Iraq."

Allan E. Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, which administers foreign education programs, hailed the partnership. "Education exchange is the quickest, most direct way to make the world less dangerous," he said.

UB officials say they hope that Iraqis who have completed basic legal training will soon begin enrolling in the Master's of Law program at the school's Center for International and Comparative Law. The one-year LLM program is designed for foreign lawyers who want an education in U.S. law.

Morad Eghbal, director of the master's program, said UB had received "oral assurances" from State Department officials that Tikrit students would be granted student visas.

The downtown campus has study-abroad programs in Scotland and Israel. During the Bosnian conflict of the 1990s, UB established a similar agreement with the University of Sarajevo. The international law center's focus is strengthening independent judicial systems, said its director, Mortimer Sellers.

An exchange with Iraq - where judges have been kidnapped and assassinated over years of occupation - would seem to be a natural fit for UB's rule-of-law focus. But it was an accident of circumstance that brought the two to the videoconference table.

The impetus came from Andrew Norman, a 1978 UB law graduate from Frederick County who is an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore. Norman is on assignment as a legal adviser to the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team in Salah ad Din.

After he arrived in Tikrit in September 2006, Norman was assigned to help the provincial government set up a court system to prosecute terrorist cases.

"The legal system here is functioning," he said by phone yesterday from a U.S. military base near Tikrit. But prosecutions of those accused of terrorism by Iraqi authorities "were not being heard because the judges were afraid for their safety and the safety of their families."

Since August 2006, three judges in the province have been kidnapped and two killed, he said. Norman helped local authorities establish a "major crimes court" in a fortified compound where the presiding judges could be safely housed. Since then, he said, about 17 trials have been held, resulting in 11 convictions and four death penalty verdicts.

As part of Norman's networking with Tikrit's judicial community, he said, "it made sense to me to hook up with a law school."

Over time, Norman developed a collegial relationship with the law faculty, and in May he delivered a lecture at the University of Tikrit. In the summer, Tikrit law dean Ayash and Norman discussed the possibility of pairing with an American counterpart.

"Part of my particular mission is to help the Iraqis improve their legal system," Norman said, "and one way is to open up channels between Iraqi law schools and American law schools to exchange ideas, faculty and students."

He suggested his alma mater and helped facilitate discussions.

Though Norman still can't leave his military base without an armored military convoy, he said security in the province is improving. "Once things calm down, this place will be a booming agricultural center. It's the breadbasket of Iraq, one of the most fertile farming regions in the Middle East."

UB officials say they hope the agreement lays the groundwork for study-abroad opportunities for U.S. students who want to learn Iraqi law, which is influenced by the British and French legal systems.

"At some point there will be a massive rebuilding job, and American corporations will be there and ... need American lawyers," Closius said.

However, Baghdad native and recent UB graduate Rhian Atta said friends and family in Iraq say that security is not improving. But the Baltimore resident, who left Iraq in 2004, said she is heartened by the prospect that students from Tikrit might soon have the opportunity to study in the U.S.

"It's a small city," she said of Tikrit. "Students there don't even get the same opportunities as students who are living in Baghdad."

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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