Murder of lecturers threatens Iraqi academia

September 10, 2004

A university lecturer in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul has been shot and killed by gunmen who ambushed her car as she was driving to work.

Police said there appeared to be no motive for the attack on Imam Abdul-Munim Younis, head of the translation department at Mosul University's College of Arts.

According to the Iraqi Union of University Lecturers, more than 250 academics have been killed since the American occupation began. Among the victims are a number of senior academic figures, including a university president and several deans.

Iraqis cannot explain the motives for the assassinations, which have targeted a high proportion of faculty members from humanities subjects.

"There is no pattern to these killings," said Sahil al-Sinawi, a geologist, who was formerly at Baghdad University. "We are used to threats against Iraqi scientists, but why kill someone working in languages?"

One explanation may be that the country's lawlessness allows the settling of old scores. But the lecturers' union claims insurgents are systematically assassinating members of the country's intellectual elite as part of their general campaign to destablise the interim Government.

A common accusation in Iraq is that the Israeli secret service is targeting scientists in an attempt to prevent the country's re-emergence as a regional scientific power. During the 1960s and 1970s, Iraq's scientific research programme was the most advanced in the Arab world.

But there has been no evidence to back these claims and Israel has denied the allegations.

Many Iraqi academics have concluded that life in their home country is too dangerous. US-based nuclear physicist Imad Khadduri said he received several letters a week from fellow Iraqi scientists asking about jobs.

Many Iraqi academics have lost their positions through the vigorous programme of de-Ba'athification carried out by the former Coalition Provisional Authority.

Dr Khadduri said that under the Saddam regime, Ba'ath party membership was in essence a condition of employment, adding that "these people were not torturers or executioners".

There is a widespread feeling among Iraqi academics that they are witnessing a deliberate attempt to destroy intellectual life in Iraq.

According to Dr Sinawi, the assassinations, compounded by academic dismissals, will lead to a "disruption of higher education in Iraq for years to come. This will dramatically affect the standard of teaching and research for generations".

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