November 16, 2006

 

Academics in Iraq: a vanishing breed?

The brazen kidnapping of up to 150 empoyees and visitors of a Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research facility last Tuesday is but the latest example of a long, continuing slide toward a wholesale destruction of the academic enterprise in Iraq. Stannard:

"The daylight attack reportedly was carried out by attackers wearing the blue camouflage uniforms of police commandos. They stormed the building after clearing the area in the guise of providing security for a visit from the U.S. ambassador, ... They forced dozens of men and women into separate rooms, handcuffed the men and loaded them aboard about 20 pickup trucks." "More than 100 academics -- more than 180, by some estimates -- have been slain since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and 40 percent of Iraq's professional class has fled the country since that year, according to an estimate by the Brookings Institution. Abdul Sattar Jawad, ... onetime dean at two universities in Baghdad, ... 'This is the rule of the militias, the mob, the riffraff of people. They don't like education, they don't like intellectuals,' Jawad, now a fellow at Duke University, said from North Carolina. 'And now the campuses are overruled by the firebrand clerics, by the religious militias.' Many past attacks on Iraqi academics have probably been committed by Sunni insurgent groups, said Juan Cole, a Middle East expert at the University of Michigan. 'The Sunni Arab guerrilla movement wants to destabilize Iraq. ... they also do target other kinds of pillars of the establishment." "At the higher education building, those kidnapped included employees and visitors, janitors and Ph.D.s, even a deputy general director of the agency. They included Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims, Kurds and Christians." "Al-Maliki, who leads a Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, appeared to minimize the importance of Tuesday's kidnappings. 'What is happening is not terrorism, but the result of disagreements and conflict between militias belonging to this side or that,' ..."

The Guardian reports that "[k]idnappers who abducted scores of Iraqis from an education ministry building in Baghdad have tortured and killed some of them, a government official said today. ... details of the hostages' ordeal had been revealed by people who had been freed. ... Around 70 have ... been released. ... The education minister, Abed Theyab - a member of a Sunni Arab party in Iraq's Shia-led government - has reiterated his decision to boycott the government until all the hostages are released, ..."

As mentioned, this is part of an all-too-familiar trend. A few examples:

• Sep. 2003: Chemistry professor at el-Basrah University killed (The BRussells Tribunal n.d.)
• Jan. 2004: dean of Political Studies at el-Mustansiriyyah University killed in a drive-by shooting (Middle East Studies Association November 5, 2004)
• June 2004: dean of Mosul University’s Law School murdered (Middle East Studies Association November 5, 2004)
• Dec. 2004: assistant dean of Baghdad's medical college killed (Crain)
• May 2005: researcher in the Date Palm Research Center at el-Basrah University killed (The BRussells Tribunal n.d.)
• July 2005: Art History professor at el-Basrah University assassinated (The BRussells Tribunal n.d.)
• Apr. 2006: Psychology professor killed, University of Karbala (The BRussells Tribunal n.d.)
• Aug. 2006: 2 University of Diyala professors gunned down in Baqubah (al-Makhzoomi)
• Aug. 2006: Dr. Donny George, Chairman of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, flees (IW&A Documents, 10)
• Oct. 2006: Geology professor at Baghdad University, head of the (Sunni) University Professors Union, gunned down outside his home (Salaheddin and The BRussells Tribunal October 30, 2006)

Did I mention that the general academic climate isn't exactly conducive to learning already? As the Middle East Studies Association and the American Association of University Professors recently stated: "Virtually every Iraqi institution of higher education is at risk. Universities, colleges, and research institutions operate under severe political duress and without adequate resources, transparent funding mechanisms, or the civil and legal protections needed to nurture and promote a vibrant intellectual climate and civil society." The only discussion left is how many professors/academics have already been killed and how many have fled in exile since the start of the Iraq War. These are the estimates I've come across:

• 20 to 300 killed, 100 to 2,000 exiled (Crain, Jan. 2005)
• 78 killed (Middle East Studies Association, Nov. 2004)
• 100 to 180 killed, 40% exiled (Stannard, Nov. 2006)
• 180 killed, 3,250 exiled (Salaheddin, Oct. 2006)
• 227 killed (Jalili, May 2006)
• 300 killed, 4,000 exiled (al-Makhzoomi, Aug. 2006)

The most thorough study so far into this dark phenomenon was done by Dr. Ismail Jalili; the two pie charts included in this post are taken from his research.


References
• Ch. Crain, "Approximately 300 academics have been killed," in USA Today, January 17, 2005
• I. Jalili, "Plight of Iraqi Academics. Presented at the Madrid International Conference on the Assassinations of Iraqi Academics, 23–24 April, 2006. Updated 1 May, 2006," in The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq, online, May 1, 2006
• S. al-Makhzoomi, "Two more university professors killed in Baaquba," in Alzaman (Iraq), August 23, 2006
• S. Salaheddin, "Sunni activist professor killed in Iraq," in The State (North Carolina), October 30, 2006
• M.B. Stannard, "Education Ministry kidnappings reflect plight of Iraqi academics," in San Francisco Chronicle, November 15, 2006
• "Joint statement by MESA, AAUP, AAAS: "Iraq: Higher Education and Academic Freedom in Danger"," in Middle East Studies Association, online, November 5, 2004
• "Professors’ Associations Decry Violence Against Academic Colleagues in Iraq," in Middle East Studies Association, online, July 5, 2006
• "Dr. Issam Al Rawi has been murdered," in The BRussells Tribunal (Belgium), online, October 30, 2006
• "Some Iraq hostages tortured and killed, official says," in The Guardian (UK), November 16, 2006
• "List of killed, threatened or kidnapped Iraqi Academics," in The BRussells Tribunal (Belgium), online, continuously updated



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