"Assassins are targeting Iraqi university
professors in a coordinated, liquidation process to force well-known
scholars to leave the country and thus hinder the country's
- Issam al-Rawi,
geologist at Baghdad University and head
of the Association of University Lecturers.
"I received a threatening letter
saying, 'Do not nominate yourself to the dean's post, or it will cost
you your life.'"
- Iyad al-Ani,
assistant dean of Al-Nahrain University
"We feel there's a campaign to kill every scientist in Iraq."
- Nahi Yousif Yaseen,
director general of the Iraqi Center for
Cancer and Medical Genetics Research in Baghdad
The Situation at a
Since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces and the subsequent
violence waged by insurgent groups, it is estimated that at least 100,000
Iraqi civilians have been killed (as of October 2004, according to a study
in British medical journal The Lancet), mostly by aerial bombardment.
Scientists, medical professionals, and other
academics have been killed alongside the general civilian population,
however they have also been sought out specifically, due to their status or
position as scientists, for intimidation and assassination. As indicated in
the quotes above, the situation is extremely dire for scientists and
academics remaining in Iraq.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, academics working at
universities and hospitals have been specifically singled out for attack.
Dr. Issam al-Rawi, geography professor, member of the Association
of Muslim Scholars and chair of the Iraqi Association of University
Lecturers, has reported that over 250 academics and professors have been
assassinated, and many others have disappeared.
The list of those killed includes Arabs, Kurds,
Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, and Christians: scientists and academics from
In response to these killings and general
unrest, it is estimated that an additional 1,000 scientists have fled the
Estimates for these numbers are coming from individual reports by colleagues
of the dead/disappeared. A partial list of assassinated academics has been
collected and posted at the website of the Brussels Tribunal (a
Belgium-based anti-war group) by a Baghdad University professor, who wishes
to remain anonymous for security reasons. To date, there has been no
scientific study of patterns of threats or attempt to collect data on the
deaths in a methodical way.
It is unclear who is doing the killing. Some scientists believe that the
majority of the killing is being carried out by the Badr Brigade, the
military wing of an Iraqi Shia rebel group that has been in exile in Iran.
It is affiliated with a group known as the
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq which worked first to
overthrow Saddam Hussein, and is now focused on pushing for the full
withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
Level of violence
Some professors have received letters claiming to be from students,
threatening death should the student not receive a certain grade. Others
might claim the professor favors a particular ethnic group - Sunni or Shia.
Still other academics have received anonymous messages accusing them of
working with U.S. government forces and demanding they leave the country.
Mohammed Abdulazis, an English literature
student and son of Saadoun Abdulazis, an assistant dean of Al-Nahrain's
science faculty, was kidnapped while Saadoun was at a conference in England.
He was released after his parents paid a ransom,
but was given a message to relay to his father:
"You must leave Iraq. You don't belong here.
This country belongs to us."
In general, morale is low in the Iraqi
scientific community. Although there has been some rebuilding, many labs
have not yet recovered from the looting that went on after the fall of
Saddam. Many scientists are fleeing not just because of the danger, but
because they have no equipment or resources, and thus nothing to do. They
see more opportunities in other countries. For example, Syria recently
opened a new science and technology university last year and the teaching
staff is now made up of almost 70% Iraqi exiles.
The dismal state of laboratory science compounded with the danger faced by
scientists and academics in the country have additionally worried funders.
At a September 2005 meeting on science in Iraq,
held in Jordan, conference co-chair Arian Pregenzer, a senior
scientist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico
"I sometimes question the ethics of what
Any grants for work in Iraq
"are keeping scientists in a war zone," she
says. "It's a terrible dilemma."
In a recent UN Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization press release, UNESCO's director-general,
Ko´chiro Matsuura said,
"By targeting those who hold the keys of
Iraq's reconstruction and development, the perpetrators of this violence
are jeopardizing the future of Iraq and of democracy."
This crisis clearly has grave implications for
the stability in Iraq, as well as that of surrounding regions. It is vitally
important that the international scientific community takes up the cause of
their colleagues in Iraq.
Actions to Take
Scientists Under Attack
Rebuilding Scientific Infrastructure