Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Slaughter of Iraq's Intellectuals: Since the Occupation Began, Some 200 Leading Iraqi Academics, Most of Them in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Have Been Killed. Is the CIA Responsible?

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Slaughter of Iraq's Intellectuals: Since the Occupation Began, Some 200 Leading Iraqi Academics, Most of Them in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Have Been Killed. Is the CIA Responsible?

Article excerpt

Control, intimidation, and even murder of Iraqi intellectuals, professors, lecturers and teachers has become more or less systematic since the US-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. Under the subsequent occupation, initially governed by a body called the Coalition Provisional Authority, US military officials dismissed many Iraqi intellectuals from university positions, often on spurious grounds; and a surprisingly large number fell victim to assassination. The Union of Iraqi Lecturers believes that roughly 200 have been killed, and estimates by various professors in Iraq back up this figure.

Intellectuals, professors, lecturers and teachers are being assassinated on what seems to be almost a regular basis.

To date, the CPA has neither investigated the deaths nor made a single arrest, despite its penchant for rounding up young Iraqis and treating them in barbaric ways in Saddam Hussein's former prison of choice, Abu Ghraib. A US defence department spokesman, when asked recently about assassinations among the Iraqi intelligentsia, dismissed the matter as simply "obscure". The Iraqi interim government, installed and hand-picked by the United States, has done nothing and said nothing about it. With the exception of a few courageous individuals such as Saad Jawad, a senior professor of political science at the University of Baghdad, people are unwilling to speak out publicly. When a former doctoral student of Jawad's was killed at the University of Mosul, Jawad's colleagues refused to sign a petition supporting a strike. The political forces active in Iraqi society are becoming more fractured, more factional, more sectarian, and more ethnically absolutist.

One university president and several deans have been murdered. What is most striking is that many of those killed since the occupation began were trained not in the physical sciences, but in fields such as the soft sciences and the humanities. In other words, they were not being murdered by loyalists to Saddam Hussein for knowing something about any possible weapons of mass destruction programme. Instead they were, and are, professors of subjects such as French literature, history and the law, where the discussion about conflict can be converted into the conditions for reconciliation.

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There is much speculation about who is responsible for these killings. Some allege it is Mossad, the Israeli secret service, which obviously has an interest in a weak and possibly theocratic Iraq--the better to declare Arabs undemocratically minded terrorists. ("It's not personal; it's business," one professor in Baghdad says of Mossad's possible motives.)

Denis Halliday, a former assistant secretary-general of the UN, has wondered aloud whether this is the work of anti-secular fundamentalists hoping to recruit students to the madrasas and to the tenets of Islamist fundamentalism. Others have pointed to militias such as those commanded by Ahmad Chalabi, once favoured by the Pentagon. At the same time, some allege these are acts of revenge and fury over grades from disgruntled students, now armed, along with the entire civil society, with weapons that the US sold to Iraq without reservation less than two decades ago.

Part of the process of dismissing Iraqi intellectuals, professors and lecturers was known as de-Ba'athification: with the exception of a few returned exiles, former Ba'ath Party members make up the vast majority of professors in postwar Iraq. Under Saddam Hussein's regime, all professors who wished to keep their job were required to join the Ba'ath Party. Yet the US repression of academics was less about protecting academic freedom than a kind of American McCarthyism abroad.

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One must ask whether there is a concerted effort to undermine a secular democratic foundation in Iraq's universities; after all, the prime minister, Iyad Allawi, is himself a former Ba'athist and murderer. …

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