The Moving Finger Writes ... for the Years of Saddam Hussein's Rule Iraqi School Children Were Faced with One Brand of Propaganda. Now, It Seems, They Are to Be Presented with Another

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For years the Iraqi school curriculum proclaimed: the father of all Iraqis." Now, under the governing coalition in Baghdad it is as if Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party regime never existed. And with the rolling out of millions of new text books for Iraq's 5.5m schoolchildren, critics accuse the US led coalition authority of trying to re-write history.

For the past decade Iraqi history teachers in the country's 16,000 schools taught a version of events that was heavily laced with Saddam Hussein's Baath Party ideology. In it, the US was depicted as the greedy warmonger, Israel the cause of all Arab suffering and Saddam Hussein as the defender of the faith. Now, with the overthrow of the former dictator, US coalition officials say Iraqi teachers will be free to teach a more factual rendition of pass events and, with the printing of new text books, they hope to erase all reference to the old Baath Party line. However, the question being asked by many scholars both in the US and Iraq is: Whose account of history is the new version, and is it any more factual than the one expounded by the old regime?

The first glimpse of what a Baath Party free education will be like can be seen in advanced versions of 563 texts now being distributed in Iraq. Heavily edited, the text books were revised by a team of US-appointed Iraqi educators working to an extremely tight deadline. Any content considered "controversial" was deleted, every picture of Saddam Hussein expunged and any event considered detrimental to American interests totally ignored.

The 1991 Gulf War is not even mentioned, the Iran-Iraq war seemingly never took place and all references to Israelis, Americans, Kurds, Shi'ites and Sunnis have been removed. It is as if Iraq's turbulent modern history was actually one long, bland void.

"Entire swathes ol'20rb-century Iraqi history have been deleted," says Bill Evers, a US Defence Department employee acting as one of three advisors to the Iraqi Ministry of Education. "While we don't want to be seen as trying to influence the way Iraqis interpret history, neither do we want to be in a position of endorsing anti-American and anti-Israeli viewpoints."

One of the most controversial deletions is the recent American invasion and the fall of Baghdad. In the revised texts these events are not even mentioned. Some, like Dr Sami Al Kaisi, Professor of History at Baghdad College of Education for Women, believe it will take many years before this traumatic period can be recorded accurately. "The fall of Baghdad is very controversial and we will need 20 to 30 years before we can teach this properly," she observed.

All this has made the new text books considerably thinner. The new downsized versions heavily underscore the political challenge facing the US-backed Iraqi Governing Council and the private, mainly American, non-profit groups charged with everything from rebuilding Iraqi schools to "reorienting" Iraq's thousands of teachers. "Entire chapters were removed," says Fuad Hussein, the Iraqi in charge of producing the curriculum for the Ministry of Education. "Anything anti-American was considered propaganda and was taken out. In some cases this amounted to entire chapters."

So how did Fuad Hussein, an Iraqi who left for the Netherlands in 1975 and was brought back to undertake the task of editing the texts by the US Defence Department select his co-censors?

"I visited dozens of schools and selected 67 teachers with anti-Baath party views," he explained. "We met twice a week at UNESCO and UNICEF offices where we deleted all Baath Party ideology from 563 text books."

But isn't this the same type of censorship and manipulation as previously practiced by the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein, modern educators demand?

"We will strongly recommend concepts of tolerance and be against anything that is anti-Semitic or anti-West; content that only sows seeds of future intolerance," noted Greg Sullivan, spokesman for the Near Eastern Bureau of the State Department in Washington. …