September 1, 2000

Universities on opposing sides of the divide in Iraq are appealing to the international academic community to help counter the effects of a decade of United Nations sanctions.

They took advantage of the International Association of Universities conference in Durban last week to highlight the damage inflicted by material deprivation and intellectual isolation.

Yehyq Al-Rawi, president of Babylon University, said the sanctions were "aimed at destroying our nation's future".

Regardless of the embargo's legality, he said, "it is inhumane and has in effect destroyed the country's economy".

He said that United States and United Kingdom domination of the oil-for-food programme meant universities were unable to import research equipment, and could only import limited numbers of journals and books. Foreign exchange and visa controls and air travel restrictions have added to the isolation.

"The ability of our professors to attend scientific meetings and conferences ... or to subscribe to scientific journals is limited or non-existent," Professor Al-Rawi said.

Presidents of the three universities in Iraqi Kurdistan (Salahaddin, Sulaimani and Dohuk) said they were additionally hit by the internal blockade mounted by the government of Saddam Hussein. They said the double embargo was restricting higher education in the region.

Des McLernon, lecturer in the school of electronic and electrical engineering at Leeds University and a frequent visitor to the Middle East, said: "So many academics have left Iraq that, even if sanctions end, universities may never recover.

"In Iraqi Kurdistan the situation is even worse. I met an Iraqi Kurd who, with no hope of peace or education, in order to avoid the authorities, walked from Kurdistan the whole way across Europe to France.

"An Iraqi academic recently told me: 'It is ordinary people, the sick, the elderly, students, etc, who are bearing the brunt of these actions.' "Sanctions are not hitting their intended target ... Before the Gulf war, Iraqi universities were some of the best in the Middle East ... Now many cannot even supply desks for students."

David Jobbins and Pat Leon

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