Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

  The decapitation of secular Iraq

George Bush's Iraq policy is built upon the pretense that Iraqi society will be able to heal itself if only some semblance of order can be restored. For the most part, Bush & Co. have succeeded in focusing debate in the U.S. on the question of whether and how public order can be restored. Yet the presumption that Iraqi society can be retrieved from the brink of disaster in that way strikes me as a mirage, at this late date.

Iraqi society has already been decapitated. Almost as efficiently as the Nazis worked to rid Germany of intellectuals, extremists in Iraq have killed or driven into exile a large proportion of the country's most highly educated and skilled classes. Even if the nefarious influences in Iraq could be eliminated with a simple restoration of order, why assume that the lost intellectuals would flock back to help rebuild the country? What assurance would there be that they could retrieve their own property, positions, and liberties?

No, I fear that Bush's failed occupation of Iraq has almost irreparably damaged Iraqi society.

For evidence of this, perhaps you need not look much farther than Nir Rosen's must-read in the NY Times Sunday Magazine on the plight of Iraqi exiles. Although most of the 2 million Iraqis who've fled abroad in the last few years are facing significant difficulties, these are nothing compared to the fearful conditions were they to return home. That's why every month some 50,000 new exiles flee. Inside the country, meanwhile, there are another 2 million refugees. This is a complex refugee crisis for which (thankfully) there've been few modern parallels since World War Two. About 15% of the population of Iraq has been uprooted.

Those Iraqis who are best positioned to rebuild their lives abroad are the well educated.

From the Iraqi perspective, the greatest loss has been the flight of the professional class, the people whose resources and skills might once have combined to build a post-Saddam Iraq. It seems, however, that precisely because they are critical to rebuilding Iraq and less prone to sectarianism and violence, professionals are most vulnerable to those forces that are tearing Iraq apart. Many of them are now in Syria...

Right after the invasion of Iraq, [an Iraqi doctor in exile named] Lujai told me, Shiite clerics took over many of Baghdad’s hospitals but did not know how to manage them. “They were sectarian from the beginning,” she said, “firing Sunnis, saying they were Baathists. In 2004 the problems started. They wanted to separate Sunnis. The Ministry of Health was given to the Sadr movement”...Following the 2005 elections that brought Islamist Shiites to power, Lujai said, the Sadrists initiated what they called a “campaign to remove the Saddamists.”...In June of last year, Ali al-Mahdawi, a Sunni who had managed the Diyala Province’s health department, disappeared, along with his bodyguards, at the ministry of health. (In February, the American military raided the ministry and arrested the deputy health minister, saying he was tied to the murder of Mahdawi.) Lujai told me that Sunni patients were often accused by Sadrist officials of being terrorists. After the doctors treated them, the special police from the Ministry of the Interior would arrest the Sunni patients. Their corpses would later be found in the Baghdad morgue. “This happened tens of times,” she said, to “anybody who came with bullet wounds and wasn’t Shiite.”

In September 2006, Lujai's husband, a surgeon, was kidnapped by Shiites and murdered on his way home from the hospital.

She had asked the Iraqi police to investigate her husband’s murder and was told: “He is a doctor, he has a degree and he is a Sunni, so he couldn’t stay in Iraq. That’s why he was killed.” Two weeks later she received a letter ordering her to leave her Palestine Street neighborhood.

On Sept. 24 she and her children fled with her brother Abu Shama, his wife and their four children. They gave away or sold what they could and paid $600 for the ride in the S.U.V. that carried them to Syria. Because of what happened to her husband, she said, as many as 20 other doctors also fled....

In some ways, despite the ethnic and religious motives of most of the Iraqi factions, the Iraqi civil war resembles internal conflicts in revolutionary China or Cambodia: there is a cleansing of the intelligentsia and of anyone else who stands out from the mass. The small Iraqi minorities — Christians and such sects as the Mandeans — are mostly gone. The intellectuals and artists are gone.

The very existence of a war against intellectuals is a token of something deeply rotten in Iraq, which a mere restoration or order (should it come about) will do little to cure. Besides, once such a war takes root, the damage becomes nearly irreversible.

Though until very recently Americans were fairly well sheltered from information about the war against intellectuals in Iraq, it had become a major crisis within less than a year of the invasion. Already in July 2003 the President of Baghdad University, Muhammad al-Rawi, was murdered deliberately.

The dead man's name was on an ominous list naming professors, intellectuals and academics marked for assassination after the US-led occupation of Iraq. Although al-Rawi heard he was on the list, he did not take it seriously, says [his wife]. "He would say that he had no enemies. He would say to me 'I am a scientist and a doctor'," she says.

The politics of the killing and intimidation was byzantine from the start; you could get killed for having been a Baathist; for talking to the American occupiers; or for calling for resistance to the occupation

During the years of UN-imposed sanctions, thousands of Iraq's most talented professionals left the country. And almost one year after the recent US-led war, about 2000 professors and academics have fled. Many academics fear a deliberate brain drain is now being executed through murder...

But who is behind the murders?

General Ahmad Katham Ibrahim, deputy interior minister, claims Baathists, fearing that intellectuals will divulge information on alleged weapons programmes, are assassinating them.

However, not all black-listed professors come from the field of science: many have either journalism, political science or even literature backgrounds.

By late in 2004, the Associated Press finally published a report on the brain-drain from Iraq.

In the last 18 months, at least 28 university teachers and administrators have been killed, while 13 professors were kidnapped and released on payments of ransom, according to the Association of University Lecturers. Many others have received death threats.

The result: an exodus of academics and other intellectuals, who are urgently needed by a shattered society, from their schools and often the country, joining an earlier generation of exiles who fled the regime of Saddam Hussein.

"The brain drain may cause serious problems in rebuilding a country that has just emerged from wars," said Mohammed Qassim, a lecturer at the Iraqi University of Technology in Baghdad...

"Assassins are targeting Iraqi university professors in a coordinated, liquidation process to force well-known scholars to leave the country and thus hinder the country's reconstruction," said Issam al-Rawi, a geologist at Baghdad University and head of the Association of University Lecturers.

But aside from political activists, few in the U.S. took the crisis very seriously. That was in line with the attitude of the American occupation, which turned its back on the looting of libraries and museums in "liberated" Baghdad and essentially ignored intellectuals in the drafting of the Iraqi constitution and virtually every other aspect of restoring the country.

While Americans looked the other way, the assassinations of intellectuals became systematized during 2005 as outside forces' influence in Iraq solidified. The ultimate goal was to eliminate the possibility of creating an independent, secular state.

Iraqi intellectuals and scientists are targeted by many elements. [When we analyze who is targeted and by what methods it is clear that] the Israelis and the Americans are after one part of them. Iran and the sectarian parties are after some others. The Baathists liquidated some of their old comrades when they noticed that they were cooperating with the Americans, and the local mafias kidnapped and assassinated others after making them pay ransoms. The problem of security, or the lack of it, is the main reason why intellectuals have become such easy targets for any act. Yet, precisely because of the chaos, the systematized assassinations of Iraqi intellectuals have gone largely unnoticed in the outside world. Iraq is being drained of its most able thinkers, thus an important component to any true Iraqi independence is being eliminated.

Here is one mark of how systematically the war on intellectuals was being conducted.

Iraqi assassins are being asked to take aim at hundreds of intellectuals whose names appear on a hit list circulating in the country by an unknown group, according to reports on the Science and Development Network's website, SciDev.Net.

The list's existence suggests that the ongoing assassination of Iraqi academics is more organised and systematic than previously thought. Leaflets calling for the murder of 461 named individuals were described in an article published last month by the newspaper Az-Zaman.

The United States-based magazine Science reported this week that it has obtained a copy of the list, verified as authentic by several Iraqi scientists. It names scientists, university officials, engineers, doctors and journalists in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

The double bombing at Baghdad University in January, which killed 65 students, may have finally focused public attention in the U.S. Two months ago, perhaps for the first time, a major American newspaper drew attention to the disaster that long ago overtook Iraq. Alexandra Zavis of the LA Times told us of the disappearance of the Iraqi middle class under a "government of thieves and gangsters".

Iraq's urban, educated, largely secular middle class had everything to gain from the fall of Saddam Hussein's oppressive and isolating regime. Four years later, it is on the way to being wiped out...

As the U.S.-led occupation enters its fifth year, holdouts of middle-class society are starting to ask: Who will be left to pick up the pieces when the fighting is done?...

Iraq once was a modern society, with well-developed infrastructure and health and education systems. All that is in pieces now, and a generation of technical expertise has been ravaged with no prospect of filling the vacuum.

Attendance at Iraq's schools and universities has plummeted as campuses have become battlegrounds in the war between Shiite Muslim and Sunni Arab Muslim militants. University lecturers are afraid of their own students, some of whom report to militant groups. "They want a people who can't think," said Abu Mohammed, head of Iraq's Assn. of University Lecturers.

The current issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that "Iraq's Universities [are] near collapse".

Thousands of academics have fled the country, classes are frequently canceled, students often stay away for fear of attack, and research is at a standstill...

"Terrorism is targeting scholars in an almost unprecedented way," says Allan E. Goodman, president and chief executive of the Institute of International Education, in New York. "It's hard to say there even is a higher-education system in Iraq anymore, with so many students and professors being killed and kidnapped on a daily basis."...

The situation has become so grave that the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research recently announced that university researchers may come to campuses just twice a week to reduce the risk of being attacked... more than 100 courses at the university [of Baghdad] have been canceled this semester for lack of instructors. At Al-Nahrain University, says Mr. Kamal [president of the Iraqi Association of University Lecturers], some departments have lost all their faculty members...

The higher-education ministry recently decided to allow students and professors to transfer to other universities in the face of such threats. More than 1,000 academics and 10,000 students chose that option this year. But an even larger number of students, especially women, have stopped going to college altogether, with some universities operating at 10 percent to 20 percent of their usual capacity.

The result is a near paralysis of Iraqi universities. Almost all academic research in Iraq has halted because fieldwork and data collection are nearly impossible...

Sectarian battles have further effects in the classroom. According to a new Unesco report, academic posts that previously were distributed to Baath Party loyalists are now being distributed according to sectarian interests...

Before the invasion, Mr. Jawad says, he used to "encourage students to analyze, to criticize — of course without touching Saddam or his two sons. But we used to assure them that whatever they say is between the students. Now you can speak freely about the Baath Party or the Baath experience, but there are things, like the sectarian way of thinking or sectarian leaders and religious leaders — you cannot touch them or their thinking or even criticize them."

The armed militias that control Iraq have also begun using their power to control curricula.

Freedom of thought is vanishing under a pall of oppression almost everywhere in Iraq, under American occupation. Rapidly and almost inexorably, the independent, the educated, the skilled have been decapitated from Iraqi society.

This is what the much vaunted rebuilding of Iraq has wrought.

crossposted from Unbossed

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