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No Sign of Saddam in New Iraqi Classrooms - 2003-09-30

Millions of Iraqi children return to school this week. Many will find refurbished classrooms and textbooks that make no mention of Saddam Hussein.

Workmen are sanding down and repainting the walls at the Imam al-Jawad Secondary School in southern Baghdad. Like many other schools, it is not ready to receive students for the official opening of classes on Wednesday. But the construction crew expects to finish their work by mid-October, when about 700 students will attend the school.

The building contractor, Salam Mohammed Hussein, says the school was in bad shape when his crew began reconstruction in early September. He says the Saddam Hussein regime never maintained the school. And he says the windows were shattered and doors were blown off their hinges from the shock waves of bombs dropped by U.S. warplanes in March.

The contractor says he received $40,000 from the U.S. military to rebuild the school.

As the reconstruction proceeds, parents stop by to inquire about registering their children for classes. Among them is Zina Mohammed Rasheed, who just returned to Baghdad from Sweden, where she and her husband took refuge from the Saddam Hussein regime.

Mrs. Rasheed left her 12-year-old son Mustafa with her brother, and now she is thankful he can resume his education free from the political indoctrination of Saddam Hussein's Baathist party.

"I hope for a better future for my son," she said. "It was so hard under Saddam Hussein to give him a good education and a good life. It is better now that the Americans are here."

Besides having to rebuild schools, the U.S.-led coalition has been clearing out weaponry warehoused in school buildings by Saddam Hussein's army.

"It's been an enormous effort to clear all the schools across the country of the ammunition, of the ordnance, of the explosives that we found, and I think that across the country we are fairly confident that we've managed to clear most of the schools of this," said Charles Heatley, a coalition spokesman, explaining the process. "It's been an enormous work."

Another major project funded by the coalition involves purging all references of Saddam Hussein from Iraqi textbooks.

Millions of new books are being printed, and they contain no mention of Saddam Hussein, who was widely praised in the old school books, and whose photo hung in every classroom across the country.

Coalition officials say some of the old books will still be in use at the beginning of the school year, but teachers have been instructed not to even speak the former dictator's name in their classes.