Three years ago, Abed Thiab al-Ajili, Iraq’s minister of higher
education, approached the Institute of International Education’s
Scholar Rescue Fund with a desperate plea for help. The New York-based
organization provides assistance for endangered scholars and academics
around the world, and the situation in Iraq, in the wake of the
American-led invasion and the subsequent unrest, was bleak.
“One of the earliest requests he made was if we could find him funding
for TV cameras at the gates of the university to prevent people being
assassinated while going into the university,” said Henry G. Jarecki,
chairman of the Scholar Rescue Fund. The fund has since supported 213
Iraqi academics through its Iraq Scholar Rescue Project, by providing
them with fellowships and matching them with host universities in
countries where they can work in safety, and sometimes, for those
facing imminent peril, providing funds to allow them to travel to
Dr. Jarecki led a video conference on Wednesday, with Mr. al-Ajili in
Baghdad and Scholar Rescue Fund officials in New York and Washington.
During the meeting, it became clear that, while the situation in Iraq
remains challenging, much has changed since that appeal.
Although Iraqi academics continue to face threats and the rescue fund
has received 12 requests for help since the elections in March, Mr.
al-Ajili said that the security situation in his country has improved
In response to a question from Dr. Jarecki about reports of targeted
killings of physicians, Mr. al-Ajili acknowledged that violence
persists. “Of course there are incidents, but they are at random,” he
said. “They are not targeting physicians or scholars in the
Mr. al-Ajili said he expected that once a government is formed in
Iraq, which he predicted would happen within weeks, the security
situation would continue to improve. He emphasized that, although
news-media coverage tends to focus on bombings and attacks, the daily
lives of most Iraqis are “normal.”
In part because of the distorted coverage, the minister said,
perceptions of the current situation in Iraq’s universities are often
inaccurate. “I have met a lot of people outside Iraq, and it seems to
me they are ignorant” about issues such as the accreditation of Iraqi
institutions and other basic facts, he said.
For example, Mr. al-Ajili mentioned that work has just begun on the
construction of 2,000 new residences for faculty members in Baghdad,
which he said are expected to be complete in two years. Such a
development might persuade some displaced Iraqi academics to go back
home. Jim Miller, executive director of the Scholar Rescue Fund, noted
that academics who have fled Iraq often cite the fact that they no
longer have homes as an impediment to their return.
Academics inside Iraq and those outside the country plan to meet in
January, at a conference in Amman, Jordan. The meeting will be
sponsored by the Institute of International Education, with help from
the Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit at the University of
York, in England. The presidents of all of Iraq’s public universities
will be invited.
Some of the Iraqi scholars who have received support from the Scholar
Rescue Fund over the past three years will be presenting papers
focused on the development of higher education and science in Iraq,
including such issues as post-traumatic stress disorder among Iraqi
academics. The call for research proposals also included a “strong
suggestion” that the work involve joint research with academics still
in Iraq, Mr. Miller said.
The conference will be a crucial event in the fund’s efforts to assist
with the eventual repatriation of the Iraqi scholars it has supported
who wish to return home. “We want those of our scholars who want to go
back to be as educated as possible about the situation on the ground
and the issues of safety and whether scholars are being targeted in
some unusually precise fashion,” said Dr. Jarecki. The main goal of
the conference, he said, “is to get people inside and outside Iraq
talking as much as possible.”
By Aisha Labi
The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page are not that of the CEOSI. Nevertheless we firmly believe that this info should be known by the iraqi academics.
We encourage Iraqi academics to express their opinions and to share their experiences, so the truth prevails.