With Salam Talib
Students at Iraq's universities were to start
the new school year this week – no small task given the daily barrage of violence
that surrounds them.
"Our ministry is the Ministry of Higher Education, so we don't have a military
and we can't make one," ministry spokesman Basil al-Khatib explained.
He said the Ministry of Higher Education says the government is doing what
it can to make school safe for students and faculty members.
"Our job is education," he said. "All that we have are some campus guards.
Until now, [they] have left the campuses safe, but outside the campus we can
do nothing. Outside the campus, the students and the teachers can be killed
while they are on their way home or even in their houses, and we cannot do anything
According to the ministry, at least 180 professors have been killed since February,
when a mosque bombing in Samarra sent sectarian violence skyrocketing around
"There are even more on the ground. We can't really deny that," conceded Basim
al-Abdili, professor of sociology at Baghdad University. "But in most cases,
teachers have been killed outside the university. Sometimes, they get killed
while they are shopping."
It's difficult to tell who is killing Iraq's academics. Nabil al-Tikriti, an
assistant professor of history at the University
of Mary Washington in Virginia, said it's difficult to tell, but the killings
are carried out in a different way from much of the violence.
"They're very professional assassinations," he said. "'Professional' meaning
that they're only going after the person they're going to get. So they're not
dying in car bombs or sectarian killings where a checkpoint is being set up
and everyone is being killed that goes through that checkpoint that's from the
wrong sectarian background. They're not getting killed in those random ways.
There are assassins that go up to them and kill them and only them."
The killing of so many professors has compelled those still alive to flee the
country. The Ministry of Higher Education estimates at least 3,250 have fled
Abdili: "The biggest problem is to avoid a brain drain, and the only way to
fight that is to make a safe environment where professors can stay. So we suggested
that we should have the professors living on campus, or at least within a block
of the campus."
Students, too, need solutions to stay safe. Abdili says Iraq's universities
are now allowing students to transfer colleges on the basis of their ethnic
group – so they can attend a university in a neighborhood whose residents have
the same ethnic background.
"We have a strategy for the students," he said. "The students that have been
accepted in other universities where there is sectarian violence – where the
local population is from a different group than their own – we will transfer
them to a university which is safer than their own, even to the University of
Baghdad, which is the most prestigious in the country. They'll be in the exchange
program, so they won't be registered as students at that university. They'll
just study there."
Analysts alternately blame militia organizations, Ba'athists, anti-Ba'athists,
the Iranian secret service, the Israeli Mossad, and the U.S. military for the
Tikriti says Americans should push their government for an investigation.
"Not a single one of these cases has been solved," he said. "Is there a plot
somewhere, and if so why, and if so can anything be done? This kind of dirty
war is contributing to a breakdown of Iraqi society, and that in turn is contributing
to the disaster that is Iraq that is also a disaster for Americans as well."