Hugh Gusterson has penned a sad and damning portrait of the devastation of Iraq’s once-proud universities. Ever since the beginning of the occupation the carelessness of the invaders meant that academics and their students weren’t merely unaided as they tried to rebuild their institutions but were actively weakened.

A eerie portent of the chaos that engulphed the nation in the years to come arose when looters swept across Iraqi cities, to the general indifference of the occupiers…

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 destroyed.

Famously, the De-Ba’athification of the police abetted the chaos and violence that was ensuing. The purging of members of Saddam’s party affected all areas of society, though, including the nation’s universities…

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.”

They were replaced with American incompetents like John Agresto, who, we’re told, “was picked to run the Iraqi university system because he was friends with Lynne Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld”. He appealed for funds…

Agresto estimated that it would cost $1.2 billion to rebuild Iraq’s 22 major universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges. Given that the US Congress appropriated over $90 billion for reconstruction and counterinsurgency in Iraq for 2004, this was not a large amount…Congress only appropriated $8 million — less than 1 percent of what Agresto requested.

Meanwhile, the universities were being slowly depopulated. Hundreds of academics died in the violence; some of them deliberately targeted by thugs who disliked the relative cosmopolitanism of their work. (One victim, a brave chap named Dr. Issam Al Rawi, was killed while investigating the suspicious wave of deaths amongst Iraqi intellectuals.) Others joined the exodus of the middle classes; stripping the nation of human resources it needs…

It is estimated that 10 percent of Iraq’s population, and 30 percent of its professors, doctors, and engineers, left for neighboring countries between 2003 and 2007 — the largest Arab refugee displacement since the Palestinian flight from the holy lands decades earlier.

One hears very little about Iraq nowadays – but for the daily documentations of the bombs and murders that tear through the country, and the everless surprising exposure of the crimes of the invaders and the government. I don’t just want to be Mr Miserable: there are doubtless thousands of brave, resourceful citizens trying to aid eachother in rebuilding their communities, industries and institutions and I wish them all the very best. What’s appalling, though, is not just the obvious casualties of the past nine years – the dead; the wounded and the dispossessed – but the stultification of the resources necessary for this task. Think of it: almost 1 in 3 professors have, apparently, upped sticks and left. How can Iraq’s children – already doubtless traumatised by everything they’ve witnessed, through dictatorship and occupation – gain the tools with which to craft better lives and a better nation from the ruins when there’s no one there to teach them?

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