Alum Reflects on Tour in Iraq

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Jeremiah S. Pam ’00, the U.S. Treasury Department’s attaché in Iraq from March 2006 to May 2007, spoke of his experiences to students and faculty on Wednesday, Oct. 31, at the invitation of the Law School’s International Programs. Pam was introduced by his former teacher, Professor Richard Gardner, who has served as the ambassador to Italy and Spain.
When he decided to go to Iraq, there was still reason for optimism, Pam said. The country had held three successful elections and ratified a constitution. Also, in the previous few years, Pam had worked closely with Iraqi officials on restructuring Iraq’s debt as a lawyer for Clearly, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton.
Iraq’s restructuring deal was an even greater challenge than previous deals he had worked on — in Nigeria, Uruguay and Argentina — and a greater success. After borrowing heavily to fund the war against Iran, Iraq saw its debt soar under the sanctions regime imposed when it invaded Kuwait. By 2003, it owed between $120 billion and $140 billion to various countries and private lenders.
Pam was part of the group that negotiated this debt down to 20 percent of the total sum, first approaching the Western countries that make up the Paris Club and later offering the same deal to private lenders, who were owed the bulk of the debt. “We were able to do this remarkably quickly, if you consider that the Argentine restructuring deal dragged on for years,” he said.
In Iraq, Pam focused on restoring the country’s banking system, guiding a transition from a command economy to a modern, capitalist model and complying with the program mandated by the International Monetary Fund (to which Iraq’s debt relief was linked). He found himself juggling three roles. “On one hand, I was dealing with Iraqis,” Pam said. “But I also had to be the interface for all of the people working in some capacity on finance at the embassy — a huge staff of contractors and military officials.” He also had to report back to Washington.
Pam’s job was complicated by several factors. “The U.S. presence in Iraq is very large and disorganized,” he said. “There were too many organizations and people working on simultaneous projects involving finance.” Also, the security necessities — including the deployment of massive convoys to escort him to various offices and ministries — slowed down his work.
Finally, he said, the relationship between Washington and its representatives in Iraq was not ideal. “I think at first, Washington gave too much power to [Paul] Bremer,” Pam said. “But now, with the surge, I don’t think there’s enough listening to the people on the ground.” The surge may be helping militarily, Pam said, but there were no companion initiatives on political and economic fronts.
Pam hazarded no predictions for the future of Iraq, but said that much would depend on the Iraqis, though the U.S. would continue to play a vital support role.