Iraq pleads for help to rebuild universities

March 16, 2001

An Iraqi education official has made his first visit to the United Kingdom since the Gulf war to press to re-establish academic relations between the two countries.

Mazin al Jumah, president of the foundation of technical institutes within Baghdad's ministry of higher education division, said that Iraq needed help to rebuild its war-damaged universities.

Iraq's attempts to import equipment for its universities after a decade of post-Gulf war sanctions are being turned down with increasing frequency by the United Nations committee charged with implementing the oil-for-food programme.

When bids for imports to reconstruct Iraq's 12 universities and array of technical institutes began in 1997, 10 per cent were blocked by the United States representative on the committee.

This proportion has increased as Iraq's requests have changed from fittings for halls of residences and similar projects to laboratory equipment and computers that conflict with the prohibition on dual-purpose items that might have a military application.

By the most recent phase analysed by Iraqi officials, 67 per cent of orders for higher education use were being rejected on the initiative of US and United Kingdom representatives.

Exports to Iraq -financed by sales of its oil on the international markets -are permitted under UN resolution 661 if they meet humanitarian criteria.

Iraqi officials hope sanctions may be relaxed to permit not only the purchase of equipment and periodicals, but the flow of students and faculty, especially to Britain, which until the Gulf War hosted 14,000 state-funded Iraqi students - 70 per cent of Iraqi students on scholarships overseas.

Professor Mazin said: "We had a happy relationship with Britain's higher education system. Many of us were educated there; 80 per cent of our equipment was manufactured in the UK. After 1990 everything stopped."

Iraq's universities were targeted during the allied bombing of Iraq amid intelligence that it was linked to Saddam Hussein's development of weapons of mass destruction, a claim dismissed as propaganda by Professor Mazin. Many institutions were damaged in the attacks, but by far the worst harm came through the effect of sanctions and the exodus of Iraqi academics to better-paid jobs in other Arab countries.

"Almost 70 per cent of what we have ordered for higher education has been blocked by the UN committee. We have received furniture for halls of residence and air-conditioning units, but we have not received a single piece of the equipment our laboratories so badly need," Professor Mazin said.

George Galloway, Labour MP for Glasgow Kelvin and an opponent of sanctions, said: "The Iraqi government and its leaders lack nothing under sanctions while the population - a significant number of whom were educated in Britain -is deprived of the necessary means for a normal life."

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