The exodus of academics has lowered educational standards

"You are on the list of the teachers who are going to be killed this month for not obeying our demands to leave Iraq," said a hand-written letter which was left at Dr Hamida Bakri's door.

Now the 41-year old professor of gynaecology at the college of medicine at the University of Baghdad, is ready to leave the country with her family before death threats become reality. She said two of her colleagues had already been killed.

"My friend, who was a pharmacist and doing his doctorate in toxicology, was killed a week ago just because he was a doctor and nothing else. He was one of the good remaining professionals in Iraq and we have lost dozens who have been killed in recent years," she added.

Until she leaves the country, two bodyguards accompany Bakri to the college and clinic. Two months ago, she escaped an attempt on her life but one of her bodyguards was killed.

"There are no good professionals in Iraq anymore. The good teachers have fled or were killed...leaving the country without hope of a better education system," Bakri said as she hugged her 10-year-old daughter.

According to the Ministry of Higher Education, at least 280 academics have been killed since the US-led invasion in 2003 by insurgents and militias.

"The targeting of such academics is generating a mess in our country. The health and educational systems are depleted of good professionals. Nearly one third of those living in Iraq before 2003 have fled violence," said Dr. Mustafa Jaboury, a research investigator at the Ministry of Higher Education.

"Shi'ite militias and Sunni insurgents are killing intellectuals to ensure Iraq is poorly managed and poorly governed," Jaboury added.

Jaboury noted that there has been an increase in the targeting of such professionals since the beginning of 2006.

Threat to the future

Experts have raised concerns saying that if professionals continue fleeing Iraq on a daily basis the country will be depleted of academics and the level of education in Iraq will drop drastically.

"By removing those groups [of people such as intellectuals], the insurgents are aiming to eliminate all support for a democratic society. And militias hope that by targeting academics Iraq will become theocratic like Iran," said Paul Colley, a London-based independent analyst.

"Students who are graduating have the same level of information like a first year undergraduate during Saddam's regime. This shows how the structure of education has deteriorated and will bring serious problems in the future," Colley added.

The Ministry of Displacement and Migration said that at least 30 per cent of the total numbers of professors, doctors, pharmacists and engineers in Iraq have fled to neighbouring countries like Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and United Arab States (UAE) but some have travelled to as far as the US, Canada, Australia and Britain.

"Some academics are lucky to get a good job and good salary but the majority are suffering and are having difficulties in having their university documents recognised [abroad]. Others accept poor salaries offered by foreign countries," Abir Youssef, senior official at the Ministry of Displacement and Migrations said.

Youssef noted that the numbers of academics fleeing the country or killed could be higher and the ministry has no latest figures.

The Iraq Index, compiled by the Brookings Institution in Washington, released on 21 December 2006, estimated that up to 40 percent of Iraq's professionals have fled the country since 2003, with doctors and the pharmacists topping the list.

In a report earlier this year, Medact, a British-based global health charity, estimated that a quarter of Iraq's 18,000 physicians have fled the country since 2003. Meanwhile, doctors and other health workers in Iraq continue to be attacked, threatened, or kidnapped daily.

The international human rights group, Amnesty International has said that it was greatly concerned about the continuing killings of civilians in Iraq and the lack of safety for ordinary people which are forcing many to leave the country.

"There has been a clear failure by the Iraqi authorities to provide security to end the killings and bring the perpetrators to justice. Amnesty International is calling on the Iraqi government to take concrete steps to promptly, thoroughly, impartially and independently investigate these killings and to ensure that the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice," said Nicole Choueiry, a press officer for Amnesty International, Middle East and North Africa.

Students in Iraq say they too are worried about their future.

"Ninety percent of our teachers have changed in the past two years. The ones who have come to replace them are not well prepared or have no experience, leaving us without a good professional for teaching and training," said Saeed Mounir, 23, a student of medicine at Baghdad University.

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