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IRAQ: Activists call for protection of academicsBAGHDAD, 15 January 2006 (IRIN) - A network of human rights activists and journalists has called for the protection of local academics and higher level educational institutions.
The appeal, launched this month by the Brussells Tribunal, a worldwide network devoted to campaigning against the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, notes the “systematic liquidation of the country's academics.”
According to conservative estimates, over 250 educators have been assassinated while hundreds more have disappeared, the network’s website states.
Thousands of other academics have reportedly fled the country, in the belief that they are being targeted because they are well educated.
The Brussells Tribunal further notes that the disappearance of trained educators has led not only to “a major brain-drain,” but also to the decimation of the secular middle class.
"Anyone who has the ability to imagine a secular future for the country is forced to flee," said Hana al-Bayaty, a member of the network's executive committee.
The assassinations have targeted women and men countrywide, with little reference to political or religious affiliations.
“The most striking fact is that the majority of those killed where not scientists… but were involved in the field of humanities,” the anti-war organisation notes, adding that, “the motives for these assassinations are unknown.”
In April 2005, the United Nations University published a report noting that 84 percent of Iraq's higher education institutions had been burnt, looted or destroyed since the start of the US-led invasion in 2003.
It went on to point out that four dozen academics had been assassinated, while many more faced daily threats.
In addition to the destruction of vital infrastructure, only 40 percent of which is under reconstruction, other problems facing Iraqi higher learning included an isolated and under-qualified teaching staff; poorly equipped libraries and laboratories; and a fast-growing student population, said the UN report.
A third of the nation’s teachers held only bachelors’ degrees, despite official requirements of at least a Master’s degree, it added.
“The devastation of the Iraqi system of higher education has been overlooked amid other cataclysmic results of the war, but it represents an important consequence of the conflict, economic sanctions and ongoing turmoil in Iraq," noted Jairam Reddy, the study’s author and director of the Jordan-based International Leadership Institute.
"Repairing Iraq's system of higher education is in many ways a prerequisite to the long-term repair of the country as a whole," Reddy added.
Iraq's educational system was formerly recognised as being one of the best in the region.
In the meantime, the campaign is calling for an international investigation into the killings and urging academic institutions in other countries to forge links with Iraqi educators, both in exile and at home.
As “an occupying power, and under international humanitarian law, final responsibility for protecting Iraqi citizens, including academics, lies with the United States,” the Brussells Tribunal concluded.
Al-Bayaty said the impact of the lack of protection for academics could be felt for two to three decades: "It's a developing country so they need the brains that can contribute to the development of their society," she said.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]