Witch-hunt fears follow v-c sacking

October 3, 2003

Iraq's new higher education minister has sacked the vice-chancellor of the University of Baghdad, triggering fears of increased central control and Islamist influence.

US troops dispersed protesters outside the education ministry after Ziad Abdel Razzaq Aswad dismissed Sami al-Mudhaffar, who was elected shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Mr Aswad claimed the vice-chancellor had not implemented the Coalition Provisional Authority's de-Ba'athification policy, a charge Dr al-Mudhaffar denied.

Keith Watenpaugh, assistant professor of Islamic history at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, warned: "Overt politicisation of higher education is afoot. This dismissal is more to do with a creeping Islamism."

He said: "Mr Aswad is close to the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood and Iraqi Islamic Party. He may have moved against Dr al-Mudhaffar because he had built a relationship with the CPA, which he used to assert the independence of the university system."

Professor Watenpaugh said Dr al-Mudhaffar was "a secularist" and "not a Ba'athist sympathiser". "I imagine Mr Aswad will move against other university presidents to bring universities more tightly under government control."

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