IRAQ: Students, Professors Flee to the Kurdish North
Mohammed A. Salih
IPS Inter Press Service News Agency
ARBIL, Jan 26 (IPS) - Academic life in Iraq's volatile southern and
central regions has become increasingly paralysed, with hundreds of
students and professors targeted and many more abandoning their
educational institutions in search of a refuge.
Raad Yaseen, 25, fled Baghdad's insecurity in mid-2004 to study at
Mosul University, 396 kms north of the capital. He stayed there barely
a year, fleeing again in early 2005 to Arbil, 80 kms east of Mosul, in
the country's safer northern Kurdistan region. Now he studies
sociology in Arbil's Salahaddin University.
He is still traumatised by the "horrible scenes" he saw in Mosul.
"Right outside our dormitory, we could see corpses dumped on the
streets with notes pinned on their chests that 'this traitor is
punished'," Yaseen, a Sunni Arab, recalled of the experiences he and
fellow students had in Mosul.
His family later followed him to Arbil after militias tied to the
al-Badr organisation, the military wing of the powerful Shia Supreme
Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, forced them to evacuate their
house in Baghdad.
Several of Yaseen's classmates and friends were killed as part of the
rampant violence that has engulfed academic staff as well.
"Because of the violence over there, it is very difficult, almost
impossible, to study," he said. "And I see no solution for this
situation in the country really."
Since the eruption of violence in Iraq, following the U.S.-led
invasion in 2003, Kurdistan's five universities have been flooded with
students and professors who abandoned their original schools.
Figures from regional government institutions show that from the
beginning of 2006 until November of the same year, nearly 1,200
students from other parts of the country have been admitted to
Kurdistan universities. That figure is growing on a daily basis as the
number of people fleeing violence the in central and southern parts of
Iraq continues to rise.
"This year we have been forced to admit students more than our initial
plan," Dr. Mohammed Sabir, head of the Planning Department in the
Ministry of Higher Education of Kurdistan's Regional Government, told IPS.
"If this wave of new students is going to continue, then we have to
postpone the [course of] study for some of them to next year, since we
cannot accommodate all these students," he said.
Kurdistan's universities are already grappling with demonstrations and
strikes from students protesting the inadequate facilities. Many
believe there is a systematic terror campaign designed to bring Iraq's
academic life to a halt.
In the latest incident of violence, 70 students were killed on Jan. 17
in a series of bombings that targeted Baghdad's al-Mustansiriyah
University, one of the country's largest scientific centres. Following
that incident, more students and academic staff are expected to
abandon their universities.
In November last year, in the biggest kidnapping operation since the
war began, more than 150 employees and visitors in an office of Iraq's
Higher Education Ministry in Baghdad were abducted. Many of them were
later killed, while others were released.
The mass kidnapping led to the temporary shutdown of most
universities. Although Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki eventually
ordered the educational institutions to be reopened, academic life in
the capital has been tense and unreliable ever since.
According to figures from BRrussel's Tribunal, a non-governmental
organisation tracking academics killed in Iraq's violence, over the
past three years, more than 250 Iraqi academics have been killed and
hundreds more have disappeared.
Some of the more affluent professors are leaving for neighbouring
countries, especially those on the Persian Gulf. Others prefer to move
Many of the students in the predominantly Kurdish cities of the north
face difficulties in learning the Kurdish language, commonly used in
local universities for communication and, in many cases, teaching.
Wafa Mosuli, a 23-year-old college student of Kurdish descent, fled
Mosul after the sectarian strife between the city's Kurds and Sunni
Arabs intensified in late 2005 and early 2006. She now studies
archeology at Arbil's Salahaddin University.
Seven of her neighbours and one of her classmates were killed during a
week of clashes in their neighbourhood.
She now has problems communicating with her mainly Kurdish classmates
and some professors, which she hopes to overcome quickly.
While the "unbearable situation" in the city forced her to leave, she
feels nostalgic for the friends and streets she left behind. Many like
her doubt that they will get another chance to return to their old
"If I tell you that I cry every single day, it is still not enough,
because I was forced to leave all my memories, friends and childhood
behind," Wafa said sadly. "If I get a sense that it (the situation) is
going to improve, I will run from here to Mosul barefoot."
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