Skip to comments.Death threats, assassinations teaching Iraqi academics to watch what they say
Posted on 07/18/2004 12:03:09 PM PDT by wagglebee
BAGHDAD Ripping open an envelope containing a small, hard object, Sadoun Dulame discovered the unwanted gift Iraq's academics have learned to dread.
"They sent me a bullet," he said, describing the letter he received last month. "They said in Arabic: 'You cost us just one bullet, no more, so shut your mouth'."
Death threats and assassinations are teaching Iraqi academics to watch what they say.
Iraq's new interim government says 31 university lecturers have been murdered since last year's US-led invasion and many more have received warnings to keep quiet.
While the motives for the killings vary, academics argue that the climate of fear they create risks stifling voices of moderation needed to help Iraq establish democracy.
"The extremists have very evil plans to control the Iraqi mind," said Dulame, a sociologist who returned to Iraq from 17 years of exile after Saddam Hussein was overthrown.
"We don't need single-minded personalities, we need flexible minds to deal with the situation in Iraq," he said.
Dulame believes the threat was sent by militants angered by criticisms he made on the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera of extremists in the city of Fallujah. Other groups have also been blamed for intimidation. Early this year, the head of political studies at Baghdad's Mustansiriya University, Abdul Latif Mayyah, criticised Saddam loyalists in a television interview.
He was shot dead outside his house the next morning.
Colleagues hired extra security. A hulking 22-year-old body builder now stands guard outside the office of one senior academic, a handgun hidden discreetly under his shirt.
Under Saddam, intellectuals knew the price for speaking out could be death. The oppression has gone, so has the certainty. These days the bullet could come from almost anybody.
"When we leave our homes, we're not sure if we're going to come back," said Doctor Dhary Yaseen, head of the department of American studies at Baghdad University. "We don't even know the reason why we're being targeted."
Some academics believe there is a deliberate attempt to scare academics away from Iraq in a "brain drain" that will undermine the country's institutions, although there is no clear consensus on who might be behind such a plan. "I believe there's a big campaign to intimidate and liquidate the intellectuals and well-educated people in the country," said an academic at the university in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq where five lecturers have been murdered.
"The interim government should take responsibility for stopping this bloody campaign," he said.
There are no figures for how many of Iraq's 17,000 lecturers have left since the fall of Saddam, but education officials say they fear the number may rise if intimidation continues.
The government estimates that at least 80 per cent of the killings of lecturers are for political reasons, but says the chances of tracking down the culprits are slim.
"So far we haven't even caught one of the killers," Higher Education Minister Tahir Bakka told Reuters. "That makes it hard to determine which group might be responsible."
Not all the cases smack of conspiracy. Some lecturers have been murdered in the violent robberies that have proliferated since Saddam's fall. Many physicians and dentists have been kidnapped by gangs seeking ransom. Others have fled abroad. Revenge has also played a part.
Many top university staff were prominent members of the former ruling Baath Party, leaving them vulnerable to attacks by individuals nursing grievances from Saddam's rule.
Bakka said Mohammad Rawi, a former head of Baghdad University who served Saddam as a medical doctor, was killed last year in just such a reprisal.
For many academics, the risks pale in comparison to the cost of dissent under Saddam, when people could be hauled away for spilling coffee on a picture of the president in the newspaper.
Academics who replaced the Baathists swept out by US invaders say they cannot find enough jobs for returning exiles.
"I think the situation for academics now is much better than before the war," said Professor Hatim Rubayi, vice president of Baghdad University. "Many of our staff who left Iraq for economic or political reasons are now trying to come back."
While choosing their words carefully in television interviews, at least some lecturers hope that intellectuals will play a more prominent role in public life in postwar Iraq.
"Academics were treated like soldiers in a big camp, made to stand in columns under the Sun," said a Mustansiriya University lecturer, describing the days under Saddam.
Remember, Moore says these "insurgents" are just like our founding fathers.
Can anybody find an address?
Good idea and send Michael Moore a bar of Dove Soap from Unilever (? the makers of SlimFast).
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