The Global Justice Project: Iraq is an unprecedented international legal setup resulting from two grants from the US Department of State to the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, starting in summer 2008, through to a comprehensive program on justice in Iraq over nearly 2 years. GJPI’s work ranged from the review of the constitution to specific bills under discussion at various stages of their development. Over a hundred experts were involved in the work, addressing specific issues or larger undertakings, with some 20 people deployed in Baghdad – with the risk of bombs and shelling that is the hallmark of daily life – dozens of law professors and legal scholars from 20 different nationalities, and some 50 students.

The first of the two grants came from the State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) under its rule of law program, initially focusing on helping the judiciary with various reform initiatives. As the program progressed the goals were narrowed down to an intensive work on the reform of the criminal procedure code. Working with the Iraqi Higher Judicial Council and American rule of law advisors in Baghdad, GJPI held regular meetings with senior judges and law professors in Baghdad, Basra, and Irbil through 2009–2010. Several international and comparative experts were consulted in the process, and a full, reasoned revamping of the Criminal Procedure Code was completed in March 2010.

The other grant advised widely on a number of legal issues raised by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs section at the US Embassy in Baghdad, including constitutional review, elections, anti-corruption, and the legislative process. Over a hundred bills and related texts were proposed or commented upon, in addition to intensive work carried out with the relevant parliamentary committees on the constitution and on elections. GJPI experts sat on both the constitutional review committee and the elections committee, providing background reports as well as daily advice. The revision of the constitution was completed in October 2009, the electoral law in November 2009. Media expression was limited because of the sensitive nature of the work; yet, members of GJPI were keen to offer to the Iraqi and US public contributions to the debate in the forms of op-eds in Arabic and English.

Members participated in various Iraqi forums, including in Kurdistan and in the holy city of Najaf, moderated major legal workshops engaging Iraqis, and met and engaged with Iraqi leaders at all levels, including the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker and a large number of ministers, MPs and judges. GJPI was throughout the program keen to see Iraqis at the forefront of the legal process, with the long term in mind. Iraqi legislators, ministers, civil servants, and judges effectively set the agenda and rhythm of the major decisions, while involving other actors, from the US Government and American civil society in both Iraq and the USA, to the leaders of the UN mission in Baghdad.

A website in English and Arabic kept legal developments in Iraq up to date, with a wealth of documents and resources. The website, www.gjpi.org, provided a model for portals in other legally underexposed jurisdictions.

A series of some 7 books on classical and modern Iraqi law was also established with Oxford University Press, with many works published or to be published in Arabic and in English with a wide dissemination. The project wound up in early 2010. A lasting legacy of GJPI is qualitative: GJPI built a world-class model that involved the Iraqi legal and political leadership in a sustained, informed endeavor that was both national and comparative.

For USA and international collaborative experience in nation building, GJPI stands as a model for scholarly legal interaction in transitioning societies amidst a controversial intervention that exacted immense sacrifices in blood and property mainly shouldered by Iraqis and Americans. GJPI deployed a richly diverse group of global experts – a combination of scholars in germane topical fields with others bringing decades of experience in Iraqi and Middle Eastern law – who became deeply engaged with leaders of Iraqi legal institutions on the issues most immediately confronting the country. Fresh thinking on legal design, from federalism to the sequence of the legislative process, coupled with seasoned experience in Iraqi politics produced an unusual combination of intellectual engagements.

The particular Iraqi setup of three religious-ethnic sociopolitical communities offered a challenging model for world federalism, while the keenness of Iraqi legislators and judges to profit from the most up-to-date legislation and practices in specialized fields (e.g., antiterrorism bills, oil and gas legislation, water distribution) made the challenge immediate as well as intellectually exciting for GJPI’s unparalleled legal specialists deployed across the world. For the Iraqis, GJPI proved that a country devastated by 40 years of dictatorships and wars could bring together the specific Iraqi tradition and the highest legal standards available in the world in pursuit of justice and the rule of law.

From electoral law to constitutional revisions, throughout the project, and currently, Iraqis seek to embrace the positive continuities and reject the negative weights of that tradition. GJPI helped Iraqis on pressing issues, and completed with the Constitutional Review Committee, a process that had stalled for the previous 2 years. GJPI offered more: it enlisted intellectual leaders from the Holy City of Najaf on an unprecedented treatise on Islam and Federalism. The model and trust built by GJPI has since its formal end continued with a series of books in English and Arabic, as well as ongoing requests from Iraqi leaders to GJPI participants across the board of Iraq’s pressing legal needs.

Hiram Chodosh directed the Project. Chibli Mallat served as its senior legal advisor.