Iraq aid appeal amid violence

December 1, 2006

An emergency fund for Iraqi academics was launched in London this week as a spate of killings followed the kidnapping of 150 scientists in the Higher Education Ministry.

In the ten days after last month's dramatic kidnapping raid, at least six academics were assassinated in an apparent escalation in the cycle of violence.

Within hours of the raid, Mohamed Mehdi Saleh, a professor of the University of Baghdad and a member of the leading Sunni religious body in Iraq, was gunned down. Two days later, as ministers publicly disagreed over the number seized in the raid and the number released, Ali Kadhim Ali, a professor at the Technological University of Baghdad, was shot dead along with his wife, Baida Obeid, a gynaecologist.

Then, within hours of one another, two professors from Babil University - the director of administration at Kirkuk University's College of Education and the head of clinical science at Mosul University's School of Nursing - were murdered by gunmen.

The rising death toll, now exceeding 250 of Iraq's 19,000 academics according to the independent Brussels Tribunal, underlined the significance of the launch of the fund, which will encourage universities in the UK to host Iraqi academics who flee in the face of the violence.

The appeal, launched by the London-based Campaign for Assisting Refugee Academics (Cara), will lobby the UK Government to provide sanctuary for Iraqi academics and seek ways to aid those left in the region.

Anne Lonsdale, deputy vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, who chaired the meeting that launched the appeal, said: "We hope to secure not only financial support but, more importantly, to build on the imaginative ways that British universities have found over many years to help refugee academics and to pool our ideas and resources to see what can be done."

John Akker, Cara's executive secretary, said: "We cannot stand idly by and see our fellow Iraqi academics murdered with impunity. If we do not act now, we will have failed our Iraqi colleagues, as well as the very notion of academic freedom that underpins our work."

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