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The Iraqi University System

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Hugh Gusterson has an excellent article on the collapse of the Iraqi university system from 1991 on:

While American troops guarded the Ministries of Oil and the Interior but ignored cultural heritage sites, looters ransacked the universities. For example, the entire library collections at the University of Baghdad’s College of Arts and at the University of Basra were destroyedThe Washington Post‘s Rajiv Chandresekara described the scene at Mustansiriya University in 2003: “By April 12, the campus of yellow-brick buildings and grassy courtyards was stripped of its books, computers, lab equipment and desks. Even electrical wiring was pulled from the walls. What was not stolen was set ablaze, sending dark smoke billowing over the capital that day.”

At the same time, the United States stripped Iraq’s universities of their leadership. In his first executive order PDF as the new head of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq, Paul Bremer removed members of the Ba’ath Party from senior management positions at all public institutions. Since one had to join the Ba’ath Party — whether one truly supported the party or not — in order to get ahead in Hussein’s Iraq, this order had the effect of removing most of Iraq’s senior university administrators and professors overnight. In the words of journalist Christina Asquith, after this purge, “half of the intellectual leadership in academia was gone.” Control over Iraq’s universities now lay in the hands of Andrew Erdmann, a 36-year-old American, well-connected in Republican Party patronage networks, who was senior adviser to Iraq’s Ministry of Education. Erdmann spoke no Arabic and had no experience in university administration.

In September 2003, Erdmann was succeeded by John Agresto, the former president of St. Johns College in New Mexico and a conservative opponent of multicultural education in the US culture wars of the 1980s. Agresto was picked to run the Iraqi university system because he was friends with Lynne Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. He too spoke no Arabic and, when the Post‘s Chandresekaran asked what he had read to prepare for his assignment, Iraq’s new top educator said he decided to read no books at all about Iraq — so he would have an “open mind.”

Grak. Read the rest; Iraq went from having one of the best higher education systems in the region to one of the worst.  Many of the problems are attributable to Hussein, but the invasion itself and attendant disruption caused other problems, and the occupation authorities made the situation systematically worst.  One of those “stupid policy, conducted stupidly” situations.  A university system cannot, of course, be rebuilt from scratch; Iraqis will be enjoying the legacy of this destruction for a very long time.

 

Update (djw) Another important chapter in John Agresto’s contribution to higher education in Iraq: AUI-Sulaimaniya.

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