There is now a systematic campaign to assassinate Iraqis who speak out
against the occupation
Death of a professor
Tuesday February 28, 2006
In a letter to a friend in Europe, Abdul Razaq al-Na'as, a Baghdad
university professor in his 50s, grieved for his killed friends and
colleagues. His letter concluded: "I wonder who is next!" He was. On
January 28 al-Na'as drove from his office at Baghdad University. Two
cars blocked his, and gunmen opened fire, killing him instantly.
Al-Na'as is not the first academic to be killed in the mayhem of the
"new Iraq". Hundreds of academics and scientists have met this fate
since the March 2003 invasion. Baghdad universities alone have mourned
the killing of over 80 members of staff. The minister of education
stated recently that during 2005, 296 members of education staff were
killed and 133 wounded.
Not one of these crimes has been investigated by the occupation forces
or the interim governments. They leave that to international
humanitarian groups and anti-war organisations. Among them is the
Brussels Tribunal on Iraq, which has compiled a list to persuade the
UN special rapporteur on summary executions to investigate the issue;
they do so with the help of Iraqi academics, who risk their lives in
the process. Their research shows that the victims have been men and
women from all over Iraq, from different ethnic, religious and
political backgrounds. Most were vocally opposed to the occupation.
For the most part, they were killed in a fashion that suggests
cold-blooded assassination. No one has claimed responsibility.
Like many Iraqis, I believe these killings are politically motivated
and connected to the occupying forces' failure to gain any significant
social support in the country. For the occupation's aims to be
fulfilled, independent minds have to be eradicated. We feel that we
are witnessing a deliberate attempt to destroy intellectual life in Iraq.
Dr al-Na'as was a familiar face on al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya TV. He
had often condemned the continued presence of US-led troops in Iraq,
and criticised the sectarian interim governments and their militias.
His case echoes the assassination of the academic Dr Abdullateef
al-Mayah. A prominent human rights campaigner and critic of the
occupation, Mayah was killed only 12 hours after he had appeared on
al-Jazeera denouncing the corruption of the US-appointed Iraqi
Militias have replaced the disbanded Iraqi army, applying their own
rule of law. Some units operate under a semblance of "legality" - the
"wolf brigade", attached to the interior ministry, is infamous for its
terror raids on mosques and the torture of civilians.
Last month the journalist Abdul Hadi al-Zaidi accused the government's
militias of targeting intellectuals. He is one of a group of Iraqi
journalists who, in the aftermath of al-Na'as's assassination, went on
strike, demanding an immediate investigation into the "systematic
assassination campaign" against intellectuals opposed to the occupation.
After the July London bombings, Tony Blair promised the British people
to "bring those responsible to justice". In Iraq, the British
government does exactly the opposite. The law of occupation states
that: "All foreign soldiers, diplomats or contractors implicated in
the killing of Iraqi civilians are immune from arrest or trial in
Iraq." Both the British and US governments turn a blind eye to the
systematic violations of human rights and murders committed by their
clients in Iraq.
It has become obvious that the occupation forces, with their elite
troops and $6bn-a-month budget, cannot hold Iraq. The only honorable
and realistic way out is genuine dialogue with the Iraqi resistance
over a complete withdrawal of foreign troops and adequate reparations
and debt-cancellation to rebuild the country.
· Haifa Zangana is an Iraqi-born novelist and former prisoner of
Saddam's regime; a longer version of this article will appear in Not
One More Death, published next month by Verso
haifa_zangana @ yahoo.co.uk
Iraq: Academia's Killing Fields
By Felicity Arbuthnot**
Feb. 28, 2006
US soldiers frisk Iraqi students and employees of Baghdad University
following the shooting of an American soldier.
Iraq, the land of ancient Mesopotamia, also known as the "cradle of
civilization" to archeologists, gifted the world many of academia's
"pillars of wisdom." Many who even came before Europe had built its
first cathedral, or the Romans the Coliseum.
The first written records, domestic laws, astronomy, mathematics,
pharmacology, and the wheel are believed to have been developed at Ur,
the earliest civil society in the world. It is also believed to be the
site of the Garden of Eden.
In between numerous invasions in the turbulent region, knowledge has
been lost or destroyed, only to reemerge triumphant with an advanced
enhanced civilization. Learning has long been central in Iraq. The
first question by a prospective bride's parents, if they are educated,
that is always asked is, "What did he study? What level is his
degree?" said Sana al Khayyat, the author of Honour and Shame: Women
in Modern Iraq.
A modern repeat of history's losses was the 13-year-long US- and
UK-driven UN embargo (1990-2003), which forced many academics to
leave, seeking positions in countries that had harder currency so they
could send back money to sustain both their extended and immediate
families. Inflation had become, almost overnight, stratospheric and
staples for many were virtually unaffordable.
One Sorbonne-educated Iraqi friend said early in the embargo that the
often daily US and UK bombings of vital installations, which resulted
in the accompanying brain drain, indicate a long-term plan: to create
chaos, to invade Iraq, to grab the oil, and to establish a permanent
hold on the strategic location of the country. It seemed like a
A prominent Iraqi academic told this writer on condition of anonymity,
"Iraq is suffering from a huge brain drain that will not be
compensated in 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 occupier
In 1994, the government organized a conference, which became a yearly
event for expatriate academics, professionals, and intellectuals. It
declared an amnesty without any reprisals for those who had left the
country illegally. The aim was to encourage academics to return to a
land staggering under the weight of sanctions, a land that was in need
of their brains to address myriad challenges. The amnesty seemed to
hold, and some academics, exchanged their well-paid positions
overseas, including in the US, for the rigors of embargoed Iraq.
Nationalism won over comfortable living.
However, if the embargo's brain drain was a weighty challenge, the
brain death of intelligentsia at the hands of the occupying forces and
others is chilling, with the entire spectrum of Iraq's professionals
being dragged from their homes, offices, and consulting rooms. They
are tortured, shot, ambushed or they simply disappear only to be
found horrendously liquidated; dumped outside a morgue, a hospital;
slumped over their car's steering wheel; or on the street.
Anecdotal reports have made estimates of the numbers of deaths and
disappearances of academics to be from around 250 to over 500 as
reported by the Palestine Information Center. Due to fear, consistent
killing, kidnapping, and arrests of journalists and other
investigators on the ground often by US troops and collapsed or
impossibly expensive communications, the verification of deaths is a
slow and painstaking process.
"Iraq is suffering from a huge brain drain that will not be
compensated in another 20 years."
The Brussels Tribunal, however, through its determined and ongoing
research, is piecing together facts and has verified names and
circumstances to date of 131 cases. The names of 31 professors and 100
doctors, surgeons, medical specialists, and PhD holders in every
imaginable discipline stare from the pages of the report. That the
list is incomplete seems incontrovertible, with credible reports
citing over 80 academics killed from Baghdad University alone.
"Over 200 prominent Iraqi academics have been assassinated within the
last three years alone. Those who are not assassinated are abducted or
forced out of the country," the Iraqi academic said.
Scrutiny gives rise to conjecture that specific disciplines are being
targeted. In the demented world of Bush and Blair's new Iraq, the
murder of Dr. Mohammed Tuki Hussein Al-Talakani, a nuclear physicist,
shot dead in Baghdad just before Christmas 2004, shocked and appalled.
"University staff suspect there is a campaign to strip Iraq of its
But actions generated resulting from a US Administration that kidnaps
an entire sovereign government and finds it "not productive" to count
Iraq's dead, shamefully, hardly surprises. To the paranoid in
Washington and their varying imported or collaborative death squads,
perhaps nuclear knowledge never mind there was no nuclear program
for years warrants a death sentence.
But what threat could Dr. Eman Younis, a lecturer in translation at
the College of Arts; Dr. Jammour Khammas, a lecturer in art at Basra
College of Art; and Dr. Mohammed Washed, a lecturer in Tourism have
posed? Or Professor Dr. Wajeeh Mahjoub, a lecturer in physical
education and author of eight books on the same subject and Dr. Sabri
Al-Bayati, a professor of geography and faculty member of the College
of Art, Baghdad University? Professor Laila Al-Saad, a dean at Mosul
University College of Law, and her husband Muneer Al-Khiero, a
professor of law at the same university, lived together, worked
together, and were killed together.
Doctors and surgeons whose lives were devoted to healing were killed,
their epitaphs written in the Tribunal's records. Two early murders
were fellows of Britain's Royal College of Surgeons and distinguished
board members of the Arab and Iraqi Boards of Medicine: Professor Dr.
Emad Sarsaan and Professor Dr. Mohammed Al-Rawi, who was also chairman
of the Iraqi Union of Physicians.
Experts in pediatrics, oncology, ophthalmology, pharmacology,
dentistry, cardiology, and neurology; hospital directors; and
administrators all dead; they had fled from death threats and were
The Independent's veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk, who
is 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
Since dead men and women do not talk, morgues are overwhelmed, and
forensic scientists are barely available in the circumstances, numbers
of murders in Iraq since "liberation" even sparse speculations of
the numbers are redundant. The only thing that is certain is that
under the occupation's watch, a massive cull of Iraq's great academics
has taken place.
That the occupying forces themselves have been responsible for many
incidents is well documented. In chilling detail, journalist Saba Ali
writes of two doctors who survived in Haditha, but who might well have
died at the hands of US troops. In May, 2005, Dr. Walid Al-Obeide, a
hospital director and surgeon, and Dr. Jamil Abbar were held for a
week by soldiers in their own storeroom, and later in a pharmacy.
They were beaten so badly that between them they had a broken nose, a
gashed head, and suffered from being beaten on their backs, legs, and
even eyes. At one point Dr. Jamil was lying on the floor when a
soldier came in, kicked him in the head, and then left, he said. Ali
recorded the injuries and swellings shortly afterwards.
Haditha Hospital ambulance driver Mahmood Chima was shot by troops
while trying to attend to injured families. Grenades were then thrown
at his ambulance which was "ripped apart," records Ali. Haditha's
horrors are documented by brave individuals, from Fallujah to northern
Tel Afar, through the Euphrates valley, from town to town, village to
village, border to border, and all throughout Iraq.
Professor Munim Al-Izmerly, a distinguished chemist, is recorded as
having died under US interrogation. He was found to have been hit by
what appeared to be a pistol shot, or bar from behind, suffering
"brain stem compression." In the morgue he was found to also have a
twenty centimeter incision bored into his skull.
Also recorded in detail are allegations of soldiers routinely taking
over hospitals, pulling patients from their beds and IV drips, beating
them, and, in one detailed case, allegedly beating surgeons in the
middle of an operation. One surgeon is quoted as saying, "Patients
were dying, while soldiers were beating us up."
Four more names were added to the Brussels Tribunal list in just the
time it has taken to write this. They include the eminent Shiite
political analyst, Dr. Ali Al-Naas, who was a frequent contributor to
Arab television and an outspoken critic of the US occupation. He was
shot dead in Baghdad in the early hours of January 27, 2006. There
are, of course, "no leads to his assassination."
The Tribunal is urging student groups, medical organizations,
hospitals, universities, and academic bodies to support their Iraqi
colleagues. Their completed documentation and petition (details below)
will be presented to the relevant authorities, including the UN
Commission for Human Rights, demanding an independent international
Petition in support of Iraq's academics
**Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist and activist who has visited Iraq
on numerous occasions since the 1991Gulf War. She has written and
broadcast widely on Iraq, her coverage of which was nominated for
several awards. She was also Senior Researcher for John Pilger's
award-winning documentary Paying the Price Killing the Children of Iraq.
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