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[casi] From Riverbend

Sunday, November 09, 2003

I updated the "Is Something Burning?!" page and have
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- posted by river @ 5:27 AM

Galub Memdeshen...

These last few days have been a bit tiring- a few
visitors (relatives) and a couple of friends who we
haven’t seen since July. It’s ridiculous- we live in
the same city but it feels like we’re all worlds
apart. Everyone is so consumed with their own set of
trials and tribulations these days- the son that lost
a job, the daughter that lost a husband… the problems
feel endless and everyone has their own story to tell.
As my mother constantly says, “Kul wahid yihtajleh
galub memdeshen”, or “every person [you listen to]
requires an brand new heart”. This is usually said
when anticipating a sad, frustrating story. Every
story begins with a deep *sigh* and ends with an
“Allah kareem”.

Our latest visitor has left us more than perturbed. A
friend of E. passed by, a junior in the electrical
engineering department at Baghdad University. He sat,
for an hour, describing an incident that occurred last
week at the university which we had heard about, but
didn’t know the details. It has been the biggest
problem yet in Baghdad University.

Just some information on Baghdad University: Baghdad
University was established in the ‘30s, I think. It is
Iraq’s oldest, contemporary university and its most
famous. It started out small and kept on expanding
until it became one of the largest universities in the
region. There are 6 different campuses spread all over
Baghdad and I’m not sure just how many colleges there
are. The main campus is the one located in the leafy,
elegant area of Jadriya, in the center of Baghdad. The
colleges of engineering, science, political science,
physical education, and women’s education are all
located on the Jadriya campus, as is the university
president’s office.

The Jadriya campus was designed in 1961 by Walter
Adolph Gropius, a German who emigrated to America in
1937. The campus is huge, and beautiful. The buildings
are sprawling and punctuated with little gardens
planted with palms and other trees and grass. There
are also several dormitories that provide living
quarters for out-of-town students, and in the physical
education college, there are football fields,
basketball courts and a pool.

My favorite feature on the Jadriya campus is the arc
framing the entrance. The arcs, which look like a
pale, elongated rainbow that doesn’t quite meet in the
middle, symbolize Arabic architecture. The opening in
the middle of the arcs symbolizes open minds, allowing
for the entrance of knowledge. Or that’s what they say
it symbolizes. The whole campus is a wonderful
contrast of green trees, and beige buildings swarming
with busy students. Even during difficult times, it
was an oasis.

Up until the early 1990s, the majority of the teaching
staff had gotten their post-graduate degrees from
abroad. The College of Medicine leaned towards an
English curriculum because most of the doctors were
graduates of British medical schools, the College of
Engineering leaned towards an American curriculum
because the majority of the professors and teachers
were graduates of American colleges. The College of
Science was a combination of American/British-taught
teachers and professors, and most of the syllabuses
were in English.

After 1991, the university began deteriorating, like
all other universities. Chemicals weren’t purchased
for the science labs because many of the basic
experimental materials were ‘banned’ according to the
sanctions resolution. The physics labs suffered the
same fate. Engineering departments complained of a
lack of equipment and books. Because curriculums were
American or British, the books also originated from
these countries. Major publishing houses refused to
sell books to Iraqi universities because their
governments considered it illegal (apparently, you can
make WMD using a calculus book…). We had to wait until
someone brought a copy of the necessary book in, by
chance, and make dozens of photocopies of it, which
would be sold in little ‘makatib’ or bookshops all
over Baghdad.

Many of the professors started emigrating after 1991
because the economic situation was so bad, they could
barely afford to support themselves, let alone their
families. They started leaving to places like Jordan,
Yemen, Libya, Syria and the Emirates, hoping to find a
decent position in a university or research center.
The ones who remained were highly appreciated… we
still talk of the mathematician from MIT, or the
programmer from Berkeley.

In spite of all this, Baghdad University remained one
of the best universities in the region. It was
well-known throughout the Arab world and its graduates
were welcome almost anywhere. It’s reputation, more or
less, remained in tact. About 90% of the college
applicants always put Baghdad University at the top of
their application form. It accepts the highest grades
because, as a total, it accepts only around 10,000
students a year and every year, 75,000 students
graduate from Iraqi high schools and apply for
college. So, in addition to some of the best teachers
in Iraq, they also get the smartest students.

The University was looted heavily during the days
immediately after April 9. Some campuses were worse
off than others. The Jadriya campus was looted, the
first few days, but because American troops were
posted nearby, the looting was lighter than in other
places. Many professors quit working after the
occupation, while others were fired. The ones
remaining in the university got together and had a
‘democratic’ vote, choosing specific staff to head the
departments, colleges and they even chose a university

The problem was that many of the professors were
former Ba’athists… some of the best teachers were
Ba’athists (we had over 6 million). Sami Mudhafar, who
was chosen as university president, was respected,
competent and… anti-Ba’athist. A few weeks into the
occupation, Chalabi started insisting on the
implementation of his ‘de-Ba’athification plan. The
first place it began in was the universities. Any
Ba’athists, with administrative positions, were asked
to step down and hand over the reigns. The next step
the CPA insisted upon, was that any Ba’athists
professors should be made to quit. That was too much.
Sami Mudhafar realized that making all the
ex-Ba’athist teachers and employees quit would mean
that he’d have too big a shortage of academicians to
continue classes. Things were already tough before the
war, this would make things impossible. So, he
refused. He told the representative for the Ministry
of Higher Education that it was a mistake and he
couldn’t be responsible for the result of an action
like that…

Sami Mudhafar was promptly changed. He was asked to
resign his post and the Minister of Higher Education,
appointed by the Governing Council, chose someone else
to fill his post. The Jadriya campus was in an uproar.
Students and teachers protested, holding signs that
said things like, “The Minister of Higher Education
was appointed- Sami was elected.” And it was a good
point: one of the first buds of democracy was promptly
squelched by a minister appointed by the CPA and the
Puppet Council.

The problems started after that. It seemed like every
day brought a new story of some minor dissent or some
major disagreement between the staff, the students and
the new administration- and sometimes, even the
American troops at the university got involved.

Before the troops pulled out of the Jadriya campus,
they assigned ‘campus security’, which some say were
trained by the soldiers. The campus security are a
bunch of men between the ages of 20 and 40 (the
majority, they say, are in their twenties). Students
have been annoyed because the campus security seem to
be there not so much to ensure safety, but to watch
the students. Almost every day, there has been a new
skirmish with the campus security, and any time
someone tried to take the matter to higher
authorities, they had to go through even more security
to make an official complaint.

A few days ago, one of the students got into an
argument with one of the security members over a
parking space. The student apparently pulled in to a
‘reserved’ parking spot and was rushing off to class
when one of the security members asked him to remove
his car. The computer engineering student argued, the
campus security guy yelled, angry words were spoken,
another security guard joined in- and suddenly the
three were fighting. Friends of the student joined in
the scuffle, and the security people suddenly pulled
out knives… more students joined in- everyone was
enraged- and the security people asked for back up.
The back up came in the form of several security guys
in two pick-up truck. They pulled up to the road
leading to the department of computer and electrical
engineering, pulled out their Klashnikovs and opened
fire on the department building!

Students began dropping to the ground, windows were
broken, chunks of beige plaster were dropping from the
balconies and teachers rushed to herd students out of
classes and into the corridors (to avoid windows). One
of the students got into his car, and went to get the
dean of the college and some Iraqi Police. A few
minutes later, the police pulled up yelled and yelled
at the security people to stop shooting. The security
people then turned and began shooting in the direction
of the police. The police pulled out their guns and
began firing threatening shots to get the campus
security to stop. The dean came along- a small,
earnest man, pale and bewildered, wondering what the
problem was and was instantly greeted by terrified
students, angry security guards and the IP.

The students went home that day, enraged and
disoriented, unable to continue classes. Luckily,
injuries were minor. A few scrapes from the knives, a
few bruises, and some mental scars, probably, but
nothing else. Since that day, they have been on a
strike- demanding an official apology from the campus
security and a limit to their power, i.e. they
shouldn’t get to fire at a bunch of students over a
parking space…

Today (well, yesterday, technically- it’s almost dawn
here) there were some more explosions in the city
center… not sure where it’s coming from but someone
said it was near the Green Zone again. Nothing on the
internet about it.

But, other than irate security guards, explosions in
the capital, bombing in Tikrit, strikes in Nassriya
over the security situation, a few assassinations,
some abductions, car bombs, frightened humanitarian
organizations, and exhausted people- everything is
just rosy… *sigh*… Allah Kareem.

- posted by river @ 5:06 AM

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