Baghdad closes all campus doors

November 17, 2006

All Baghdad universities were shut this week on the orders of Abd Dhiab, the Iraqi Higher Education Minister, writes David Jobbins.

His intervention came hours after men in military-style uniforms kidnapped up to 150 men at gunpoint from the JMinistry of Higher Education and Scientific Research-Scholarships and Cultural Relations Directorate building.

Suspicion fell on the Shia Muslim-dominated security forces, and a number of senior officers are reported to be under investigation.

Human rights organisations had this week already called for urgent government action to protect academics after the apparent tit-for-tat shooting of a Baghdad University professor.

Jassim al-Asadi, dean of the university's School of Administration and Economics, was assassinated, along with his wife and son, while driving in the north of the city on November 2.

Professor al-Asadi was from the Shia community, and his murder came three days after unknown assailants shot and killed Issam al-Rawi, a professor of geography at the university's earth sciences department.

Professor al-Rawi, head of the Iraqi Association of University Lecturers, was a Sunni.

At least 181 academics have been killed since the 2003 invasion and a further 85 have been kidnapped or have escaped murder attempts. There are about 19,000 university academics in the country.

Professor al-Rawi had said he believed assassins were targeting well-known scholars in an attempt to slow reconstruction by driving them into exile.

The New York-based organisation Scholars at Risk this week reiterated calls for international agencies to improve security for the Iraqi higher education sector.

The Brussels Tribunal lists more than 300 academic victims of the violence.

Of these, more than three quarters were killed.

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