10 March 2006
Dr Mohammed Tuki Hussein Al Talakani Dr Eman Younis Dr Jammour Khammas Dr
Mohammed Washed Professor Wajeeh Mahjoub Professor Sabri Al Bayati Professor
Laila Al Saad Professor Muneer Al Khiero Professor Emad Sarsaan
ProfessorMohammedAl Rawi Professor Munim Al Izmerly Dr Ali Al NaasI
The horrific killings of Iraqi intellectuals have left suspicions that
occupying forces may be behind some of the cases, says Felicity Arbuthnot.
It is estimated that between 250 and 500 intellectuals have been killed or
have disappeared since the fall of Saddam Hussein. There is a rising surge
of anger over attacks on Iraq's intellectuals and many believe some of the
killings may be part of a deliberate policy of targeting those who speak out
against the "occupation".
A prominent, internationally respected Iraqi academic, who cannot reveal his
or her identity for fear of repercussions, says: "Under the American and
British occupation, Iraqi academics are being forced out of their jobs and
their country under the veil of politics. This is especially true for female
Iraqi academics, who once made up nearly half of Iraqi academics in higher
institutions and now fear for their lives and the lives of their families.
In and outside the workplace they are being targeted by extremists and by
the occupiers - more than 200 prominent Iraqi academics have been
assassinated in the past three years alone. Those who are not assassinated
are abducted or forced out of the country. Iraq is suffering from a huge
brain drain that will not be compensated for another 20 years. This is a
dramatic loss for the country and, without Iraq's educated middle class, we
will be sure to see a rise in sectarianism and extremism, which is what the
The situation is compounded by the absence of foreign journalists who
reported on the UN embargo against Iraq from 1990-2003 and who have been
warned that their lives may be at risk if they return to the country.
Those whose loved ones have been killed are similarly afraid to speak out
for fear of reprisals. It is hard to know who is behind the killings and
abductions as very few of the cases are investigated. But the information
available is fuelling suspicions that Western forces may be to blame in some
When I was in Iraq during the embargo, one of the people I met was a doctor
and fellow of Britain's Royal College of Physicians. His concern was the
rise of a rare and rapidly presenting bone cancer. He introduced me to
patients and their families and was desperate for knowledge of and access to
the latest treatments - vetoed under the embargo. Inflation was
stratospheric and, although he had formerly been reasonably well paid, his
family was suffering. He had money in a British bank account and gave me the
account details so I could get some money out for him. Iraqis are the
proudest of people. It was painful for him to reveal his plight to me, and
to give me his bank details displayed trust. He needed that hard currency.
But it was all to no avail as even private accounts were frozen. His name is
now on the list of Iraqi intellectuals who have been killed since the
overthrow of Saddam.
During the 13-year embargo, many academics were forced to leave Iraq,
seeking positions in countries with more stable currency, which they could
send back to sustain their families. Some Iraqis saw this as a deliberate
strategy by the West to deprive a country proud of its intellectual heritage
as "the cradle of civilisation" of the critical voices that might oppose
Western attempts to take control of the region.
The embargo's brain drain proved a weighty challenge for academia in Iraq,
but what is happening to Iraqi intellectuals now is chilling, with people
from the entire spectrum of Iraq's professional class dragged from homes,
offices and consulting rooms. Tortured, shot, ambushed or simply
disappeared, they are found dumped outside hospitals, morgues, slumped over
car wheels, on refuse dumps, or in the streets.
The Brussels Tribunal, set up in the tradition of the 1967 Russell Tribunal
and backed by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, is looking into war
crimes in Iraq and has held hearings and heard testimony from expert
witnesses from around the world. It is trying to piece together the facts
concerning killings of civilians in Iraq and has verified the names and
circumstances of 143 people. Thirty-one of these are professors and 100 are
doctors, surgeons, medical specialists or people holding doctorates in other
The list is long and varied. It includes Mohammed Tuki Hussein Al Talakani,
a nuclear physicist, shot dead in Baghdad just before Christmas 2004; Eman
Younis, a lecturer at the College of Art at Baghdad University; Jammour
Khammas, a lecturer at Basra College of Art; Mohammed Washed, a tourism
lecturer; Wajeeh Mahjoub, a lecturer in physical education; and Sabri Al
Bayati, a faculty member of the College of Art, Baghdad University. Laila Al
Saad and her husband Muneer Al Khiero, dean and faculty member respectively
of Mosul University College of Law, lived together, worked together and were
killed together. Two of those murdered in the months following the fall of
Saddam were Emad Sarsaan and Mohammed Al Rawi, who was also chairman of the
Iraqi Union of Physicians. Both were fellows of Britain's Royal College of
Surgeons and distinguished board members of the Arab and Iraqi Boards of
Medicine. Experts in paediatrics, oncology, ophthalmology, pharmacology,
dentistry, cardiology, neurology, as well as hospital directors and
administrators, have all been killed, kidnapped or have fled from death
That the list is incomplete is incontrovertible, with credible reports
citing the killings of more than 80 academics from Baghdad University. In
the past two weeks alone, 12 more intellectuals have been added to the
Brussels Tribunal list. They include the eminent Shia political analyst Ali
Al Naas, a US critic who was shot dead in Baghdad on January 27. There are
"no leads to his assassination".
The Independent's veteran Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, no
conspiracy theorist, wrote on July 14, 2004: "University staff suspect there
is a campaign to strip Iraq of its academics to complete the destruction of
Iraq's cultural heritage, which began when America entered Baghdad." Some
suspect experts in particular areas have been targeted. For instance,
several agricultural experts, who could testify to the effects of bombing on
the environment, have been killed.
Speaking at a meeting in London in February, Sa'ad Jawad, professor of
political science at Baghdad University who heads Iraq's University
Professors Association, said some of the academic victims appeared to have
been targeted because of links to the Baath regime, but others seemed to
have been victims of a campaign to eliminate any potential to develop
further scientific and intelligence programmes. He added that there were
obvious questions about who would have the ability, and the political
support, to carry out such attacks with impunity. With few cases being
investigated, what is certain is that under the occupation's watch, a
massive cull of Iraq's great academic wealth has taken place. That the
occupying forces themselves have been responsible for some of the incidents
is well documented. The Guardian reported, for instance, how Munim Al
Izmerly, a distinguished chemist, died after his home was raided by the US
military in April 2003. He was on the US's 200 "most wanted" list and was
accused of meeting Saddam, although Saddam routinely summoned academics for
meetings and "no" was not an option. He gave himself up the day after his
home was raided. His family were informed the following February that he had
died in custody of "brain stem compression". An autopsy found that he had
been hit from behind and that his skull had been fractured.
On the Brussels Tribunal website, journalist Saba Ali writes of two doctors,
Walid Al Obeide and Jamil Abbar, who were held by US troops in Haditha for a
week in May 2005. He says that at one point Dr Abbar was lying on the floor
when a soldier came in, kicked him in the head and left.
Ali records in words and with photographs the injuries, swellings and
extensive haematomas they allegedly suffered.
Reuters reported in January that the Association of Muslim Scholars in the
Umm Al-Qora Mosque complex in western Baghdad had been ransacked and
crucifixes scrawled on its walls. The association is made up of an
influential group of Sunni scholars, and its leaders have called on US
forces to withdraw from Iraq.
Layla Asamarai, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology in the US, tells
how her uncle, a prisoner of war in Iran for 16 years, was shot by US troops
on his way to a business meeting in Samarra in January. In her anguish, she
reflects a poignant view, which the West would do well to heed. "My Uncle
Abdulrazak is not the only one; thousands have died in this way," she says.
"This is the face of American terrorism... an Iraqi civilian, working hard
to support his family, forced to live his life in the midst of an American
occupation and dumped like road kill. What makes their lives more worth
living? Is it the cross that hangs on their necks? My uncle's murderers will
come home to their families... but in their soiled hearts they will carry
with them the ugliness of what they have done."
Jawad says of the list of academic victims: "Not one single crime has been
brought to justice. We have gone to the UN, US and UK ambassadors, the Arab
League. No one cares. Murders reported to the Americans always elicit the
same response: 'Oh, but he was a Baathist.'"
Indeed, 4,000 university employees were sacked after the fall of Saddam for
alleged membership of his Baath Party, which advocated pan-Arab nationalism,
although experts on Iraq say many of the academics joined the party only to
further their careers. Jawad says the occupying forces are also trying to
interfere with what universities teach. He claims the US Army captain in
charge of Baghdad University tried to influence the syllabus, demanded that
maps of the Middle East with Palestine on them be removed and tried
unsuccessfully to close down the Institute of Palestinian Studies.
But despite this interest, no money has been put into higher education, he
says. "We are using books from the 1980s and whatever small items we have
are brought in from outside," he said. "Millions of dollars have been spent
setting up new prisons in Iraq - $1.3 billion has been spent on security,
but not $1 on a book, a desk or education."
Felicity Arbuthnot has written and broadcast widely on Iraq. She was senior
researcher for John Pilger's award-winning documentary Paying the Price:
Killing the Children of Iraq and co-authored Baghdad in the Great Cities
educational series for World Almanac Books. The Brussels Tribunal will be
handing its documentation to the UN Commission for Human Rights among
others. It is urging student groups, medical organisations, hospitals,
universities and academic bodies to support their Iraqi colleagues.
Courtesy and Copyright ę Felicity Arbuthnot
Published Times Higher Educational Supplement 10th March 2006.