The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Higher Education and Research in Iraq Comes to a Grinding Halt

by Dahr Jamail

A year after the fall of the Hussein regime, Iraqi universities remain in disrepair after decades of war and sanctions; grad students trapped within Iraq's borders. Academics wonder when the "rebuilding" will reach them.

Baghdad; May 7, 2004 – According to academics in Iraq today, the already horrendous problems afflicting the higher education system since the beginning of the occupation have now brought research and studies to a standstill. In addition to the lack of support from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), they say the growing lack of security has forced teachers and professors to teach only the basics.

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Before the US invasion, Iraq had some of the highest education standards in the Middle East, professors published regularly in foreign journals, and many Iraqi scientists were awarded international awards. Many Arab students used to travel to Iraq to study at Baghdad University. In addition, during the oil boom in Iraq during the late 70’s, the government funded graduate students to study abroad at the best universities.

Mukhtar Ali, a PhD in Geology who teaches at Baghdad University, says the occupation has ruined the higher education system in Iraq. "Now, with much sadness, after the American’s ‘liberated’ us, everything has regressed 100 times," he says.

"We have no conferences here anymore, no meetings with foreign experts, no visiting lecturers, nor any journals and research," Ali said. "This is the price of the liberation we have to pay." He angrily added, "We know this is not a transition period. We know we’ll never regain the status of excellence we once had. We know the superpower will never allow it."

Under American occupation, students are not able to study abroad due to lack of money to do so from the Ministry of Education, as well as visa difficulties. It is extremely difficult for Iraqis to gain a foreign visa at present.

Dr. Ali said the only good thing to come from the occupation is that the teachers and professors have higher salaries.

Dr. Hassan Kamel is a Professor of Biochemistry at Baghdad’s Mustansiriyah University. In a January 2004 interview, he said, "We have nothing we need to teach and allow the students to perform the practical side of their studies. Theoretical teaching is all we have been able to give them."

Mr. Daoud Marwan is a student at Baghdad Pharmacology University. Highlighting the dire lack of security in Iraq today, he said some students are threatening their professors, forcing them to give easy exams. "Teachers are now giving out good grades because they are afraid of being killed by their students who threaten them," he said, "plus, the Dawa Party is trying to control everything on our campus, and nobody can stop them." The Dawa Party is a national Shiite opposition group that had opposed Saddam Hussein’s rule and currently wants an Islamic state established in Iraq through elections.

Jinan Jabari has a PhD in Physics and teaches at Baghdad University. She reflected upon how emotionally draining it is to try to teach and conduct research in the environment of Iraq today. She said, "It’s hard for us to try to go to work at the University with all of this sadness. We see the occupiers of our land everyday. I used to go to the University five days per week to teach, but now I only go 2-3 days because of the lack of security."

She said even the university has compressed its class schedules down to 4-5 days per week, instead of the usual six days per week. In addition, much of the staff from the University has left Iraq. She claimed that the Ministry of Education wants to replace them, but the CPA will not give them permission to do so. She said, "The CPA doesn’t want this to be a free and developed country. They’ve just come for the oil and to control the Middle East."

A PhD student at Baghdad University, Muhammed Hassim is a studying the Parliamentary Development of England. In an interview earlier this year, he said that even under the rule of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi University students were allowed to travel abroad to study. However, now under American occupation, they are not able to study abroad due to lack of money to do so from the Ministry of Education, as well as visa difficulties. It is extremely difficult for Iraqis to gain a foreign visa at present.

"The Americans never give us any help here. Why is that? The Americans are eager to make political changes, but they have done nothing for the students here," said Hassim. "I don’t think they will ever change this for us."

Saba Al-Ammar, a research assistant at the same university for PhD and masters candidates before the war, said in January that, "most of our science students haven’t resumed their research because they lost all of their research resources." She said, "We have had no help from the CPA [Coalition Provision Authority] or anyone else. We used money from the Iraqi Ministry of Finance to replace what we could by going to the market ourselves."

"America has put itself in a situation it could not have imagined. It has failed to control Iraq. Even the B.A. students here are not able to carry out their research because they lack the resources they need," said Al-Ammar.

The Iraqi Ministry of Education was contacted for an interview on these matters. CPA spokesperson David Lawrence requested but did not respond to a list of questions sent to him by The NewStandard.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Dahr Jamail is a contributing journalist.

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