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Fear Grips Iraqi Universities - 2004-07-12

Insurgents in Iraq have struck at the heart of the country's higher learning centers, kidnapping noted researchers, university professors, and administrators. Fearing for their personal safety, many educators are leaving the country.

Iraq's Minister of Higher Education, Tahir Khalaf Jabir, says he is not optimistic about the near-term future of Iraq's higher education.

First, he says, there is not nearly enough funding to rehabilitate the country's university system, which was damaged by years of neglect and international economic sanctions.

Many classrooms at Baghdad University remain in disrepair and the school's laboratories, looted last year following the fall of Baghdad, remain without adequate equipment.

But according to Mr. Jabir, the greatest threat to Iraq's universities is an exodus of professors, teachers, and administrators who left the country fearing for their lives.

The kidnappings of professors, some of whom have disappeared without a trace, is decimating faculties at universities and causing a huge problem for administrators.

Mr. Jabir says there is little he can do about it. He says the issue of kidnapping has been the main problem his ministry is discussing. He says there has been a series of kidnappings of professors because the security situation in Iraq is bad. As a result, he says, the most experienced and respected professors have either left the country or are thinking about it. And, he says under the current situation he cannot ask them to stay.

Mr. Jabir said the university system in Iraq has lost almost 40 ercent of its professors.

Minister of Human Rights Bakhtiar Amin said he believes the kidnappings are the work of extremists and loyalists to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "The same forces, dark forces, fanatics, terrorists, remnants of the former regime are deliberately attacking the doctors, academics, professors, the brain of society in order to return this country back to the Middle Ages. And, for them, they are against science, against progress, against development, against reconstruction in this country, against the people to have job opportunities in order for to make it easier for them to recruit people. And, they are the forces of ignorance," he said.

The minister says, in the short run, the outlook for Iraq's universities looks bleak. But he says once freedom takes hold in the country, the education system, like the rest of the society, will flourish.