When Iraq's new government officially took power earlier this
month, Shiite students at Baghdad University celebrated. But after
the jubilation ended, the main organizer of the festivities, Dawa
party activist Masar Sarhan, was killed.
Mr. Sarhan, a pharmacy student, was shot on his way home and is
apparently one of the latest casualties of tensions between Sunni
and Shiite students at Iraq's 20 universities and 47 technical
According to a recent United Nations report, nearly 50 academics
have been assassinated in Iraq over the past two years. A US
official says the number is closer to 100, but added that the
pattern of the killings is not clear, with "terrorism, general
thuggery, pay back, and de-Baathification" all playing a role.
Thursday, professor Moussa Salum, a deputy dean at Baghdad's
Mustansiriya University, was killed along with three of his
bodyguards, Reuters reported.
But while the steady violence on campuses has been a constant
worry for students and faculty alike, there are signs that Iraqis
are making strides to reclaim the country's "long, proud tradition
of distinguished universities," according to Jairam Reddy, the
author of the UN report, who lives in Amman, Jordan.
According to the UN report, the total enrollment at Iraqi
universities is more than 250,000, 42 percent of whom are female
students. Forty percent of the country's learning institutions are
now under construction - many suffered looting in the wake of the US-
The Ministry of Finance has upped its allocation for higher
education from $40 million in 2003 to nearly $70 million this year,
according to the report. Backed by UN agencies and the World Bank,
Iraqi universities have hired more than 4,000 new staff.
Although salaries are low by international standards, many
professors who left under the old regime have returned to Iraq's
universities, in some cases bringing much needed foreign expertise.
With help from foreign donors, universities are gradually
rebuilding their labs and libraries, which were neglected for years.
Groups of students, meanwhile, are gaining exposure to the outside
world through American-funded study trips to the United States and
But while welcoming academic freedoms, some professors say that
too many student groups are taking advantage of the country's new
"free expression" as an excuse for politicized provocations.
With professors already feeling threatened, a new sense of Shiite
ascendancy after the Jan. 30 elections raised the temperature
between Shiite students and their Sunni counterparts, some of whom
still express affection for Saddam Hussein and his former Baath
"The university as a whole should be kept out of political
struggles," says Baghdad University professor Nabil Mohammed. "It's
not a place to put pictures calling for this party or that."
Professor Mohammed says he was never fond of Baathist
apparatchiks either, but the campus was always safe under the old