Belgium: Seminar on the Systematic Destruction of Iraq’s educational infrastructure March 9-11 2011 Print E-mail


  The BRussells Tribunal, in cooperation with the University of Ghent (Sami Zemni, Ruddy Doom, Christopher Parker), IACIS (International Association of Contemporary Iraqi Studies) and other Belgian and International Organisations is organizing a very important 3 day seminar 9-10-11 March 2011 at Ghent University, titled: INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR ON IRAQI ACADEMIA: “DEFENDING EDUCATION IN TIMES OF WAR AND OCCUPATION”.

We would like to invite you to this conference. Underneath you can read the first draft. All available information can be found HERE

We hope many of you will be able to come. Let us know.

Best wishes.

Lieven De Cauter.
Dirk Adriaensens
Members Executive Committee BRussells Tribunal

1. Concept

2. Objectives of the seminar

3. About the BRussells Tribunal

1. Concept
Under US occupation, Iraq’s intellectual and technical class has been subject to a systematic and ongoing campaign of intimidation, abduction, extortion, random killings and targeted assassinations. Running parallel with the destruction of Iraq’s educational infrastructure, this repression led to the mass forced displacement of the bulk of Iraq’s educated middle class — the main engine of progress and development in modern states.

The second election held in Iraq under foreign occupation — in March 2010 — was designed to give the false impression that Iraq is well on the way towards a “blossoming democracy”. But nothing will conceal the impact of the destruction of Iraq’s educational system and its educators, for without these no stable Iraqi state can be built.

The balance of evidence suggests that the destruction of Iraq’s intellectual and technical class was not random but rather a conscious policy. Thus the destruction of Iraq’s education system must be read in its political context, as a necessary component in an overall destructive strategy that would end the Iraqi state in both the short and medium term. Indeed, the destruction of Iraqi education — facilities, policies, culture and persons — would ensure, perhaps for generations, the subjugation of Iraq as a whole. This was the mindset of the architects of the war on Iraq and its people.

Now, in the eighth year of a US occupation that shows few signs of ever ending, the BRussells Tribunal and the Middle East Studies Centre of the Centre for Third World Studies of the University of Ghent propose to revisit the Iraqi academic and educational situation.[1]

2. Objectives of the seminar
While the mainstream media continues to ignore or conceal information vital to any reasoned understanding of why the United States and its allies attacked Iraq, occupied it, and continue to occupy it, the urgent task of the proposed seminar is not only to give reasons for the destruction of Iraqi academia, but also to propose ways of saving it, highlighting the duty of international organisations to respond, and the moral responsibility of non-Iraqi educators to stand in solidarity with their Iraqi counterparts.

Thus in Ghent, in cooperation with other Belgian universities and international organisations, the aim is to alert the international academic community to the ongoing nature of the crimes against Iraqi academics and to propose and explore practical remedies.

The introductory content of the seminar would cover a number of elements:

* Introduction to the results of “state-ending”: the killing of academics and destruction of Iraqi academia as exemplary of a strategy of cultural and political destruction;
* Testimony on the killing of Iraqi academics and the destruction of the educational system in Iraq and its current status under occupation and a client government;
* Special attention to the situation of the forcibly displaced: the challenges faced by Iraqi refugees in securing their rights to education, financing their education, and the right to work for displaced Iraqi academics;
* An assessment of the practical challenges to education in Iraq today, spanning facilities and the loss of persons, as well as the general deterioration of social culture and public safety amid the collapse of the state and the reign of violent militias and associated leaders.
* An analysis of the extent of discrimination, corruption and oppression in Iraqi universities and the educational system and how these might be stopped.

The objectives — and main content — of the seminar would be:

* To provide the international academic community, wider public and relevant institutions with an opportunity to hear the truth about the destruction of Iraq, and the plight of Iraqi academia and academics in particular;

* To provide, within the framework of an accurate, non-partisan understanding of the destruction of Iraqi academia and the killing of academics, an opportunity for those who stand in solidarity with Iraqi academics and promote education in general to propose and discuss practical means of helping Iraqis recover their rights to education, and defending Iraqi academics;

* To provide, in particular, a forum for educational leaders — whether deans, professors, department heads or administrators — to establish a practical network of opportunities for displaced Iraqi academics, thus helping to save what remains of Iraqi academia outside Iraq;

* To formulate, alongside the practical initiatives discussed or adopted, the insistence that politicians, governments, civil servants and associated institutions, at national and international levels, take immediate steps to uphold international law, the rights of education embraced by the United Nations, and to stop the ruthless repression and killing of Iraqi academics.

The main objective of the seminar should be to make a solid step towards relieving the suffering of the Iraqi people. They are the ultimate targets of the destruction of Iraqi academia.

One of the best means of bringing closer an end to their suffering is to participate in efforts to propose, map, plan and outline the steps necessary for rehabilitating Iraq’s educational system. Saving Iraqi academics is a keystone in stemming any further destruction of Iraq and its people, and to rebuilding what remains.

Only Iraqis can rebuild Iraq, and for Iraq to be sovereign these Iraqis should be skilled, capable and independent, so the destruction wrought can be repaired. Iraq’s educators are vital to Iraq’s future.

The time is long past for speeches and assurances from those in positions of power. Practical action must be demanded, of those in power and from ourselves.

3. About the BRussells Tribunal

The BRussells Tribunal — fashioned after the 1967 Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal — was the opening session of the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI), its members participating fully in the WTI process that concluded in Istanbul in 2005. Thereafter, the BRussells Tribunal was one of the contributing WTI sessions that declined to discontinue its work, monitoring the US-led occupation and exposing and challenging its crimes.

See: and Members:  

[1] Alerted early by its Iraqi correspondents that there was a systematic effort underway to destroy Iraq’s education system, with the widespread assassinations of Iraqi academics, in 2005 the BRussells Tribunal launched a global petition and appeal to save Iraqi academics. In 2006, the BRussells Tribunal participated in the Madrid International Seminar on the Assassination of Iraqi Academics and Health Professionals, 22-23 April 2006. It established a list of murdered Iraqi academics that now functions as a global reference, and it compiled studies, published articles, statements and appeals on the topic. Some of its members contributed to the book Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why were museums looted, libraries burned and academics murdered? (Pluto Press, 2010: Scroll down to read Review). This book substantiates the claim that the invasion of Iraq wasn’t an exercise in nation building but rather one of “state-ending”, and that the systematic killing of academics and their intimidation and forced displacement has to be understood in that context.
[Peace without justice & equality is an explosion waiting to happen.
Justice without the pursuit of peace & equality is a torturous path to nowhere]
 3 - 9 June 2010 Issue No. 1001

'Cultural cleansing' of Iraq?

Museums looted, libraries burned and academics murdered: seven years after the US-led invasion, a new book gives a sobering picture of the cultural situation in Iraq

Thanks to the work of Arab, European and US journalists, scholars and academics the tragedy that has overtaken Iraq's cultural heritage since the US-led invasion in 2003 has become widely known, with an international consensus having formed on at least this aspect of the country's recent history.

Following the entry of US forces into Baghdad in April 2003, a wave of looting broke out that targeted the country's cultural institutions, with the National Museum of Iraq, which holds one of the world's most important collections of Mesopotamian antiquities, being looted, the National Library and Archives burned and other institutions up and down the country, including museums, archaeological sites, schools and universities looted or destroyed.

In an interview that appeared in this newspaper at the time, Mounir Bouchenaki, then assistant director-general for culture at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, in Paris, spoke of his shock at crunching through the 20cm of ash covering the floors of the burned-out Iraqi National Library on a fact-finding mission to Baghdad.

"The reality [at the National Museum] is really terrible," Bouchenaki told the Weekly. "There is not a single door or cupboard that has not been opened or smashed, even the museum safe that contained the salaries of the staff. Every single piece of equipment has disappeared, even chairs and computers. When you see this terrible situation, you feel that people are still in shock."

While initial reports that spoke of some tens of thousands of objects being stolen from the National Museum were later reduced to some 25 to 40 major objects missing, with some 15,000 others, including statuary, cylinder seals and pottery items, smashed or unaccounted for, the overall picture only worsened over the years that followed.

Security at Iraq's thousands of archaeological and other cultural sites proved impossible to maintain, and looting reached epidemic proportions. An eye-witness account by journalists Micah Garen and Marie-Hélène Carleton, quoted in this newspaper in 2006, contained a sobering account of the situation in the south of the country.

"The toll on the Sumerian city states located along the ancient river beds in southern Iraq has been devastating," Garen and Carleton wrote. "Sites such as Isin, Adab, Zabalam, Shuruppak and Umma have been so badly damaged that almost nothing remains of the top three metres. Flying by helicopter over the site [of Umma] reveals an unimaginably grim reality, a scene of complete destruction that unfolds before you as a sea of holes in the desert. One can only wonder at the loss of history, the untold number of looted artifacts and documents of our collective past that will never make it to the Iraq Museum and into the world's consciousness."

Garen and Carleton's account appeared in one of the earliest books to deal in detail with the destruction of Iraq's cultural heritage following the 2003 US-led invasion, Milbry Polk and Angela Schuster's edited volume The Looting of the Iraqi Museum, Baghdad, reviewed in the Weekly in November 2006.

Further accounts subsequently appeared, some of them reviewed in this newspaper, including another edited volume by British academic Peter Stone and Lebanese journalist Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly, The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq, reviewed in the Weekly in September 2008, and US academic Lawrence Rothfield's The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum, probably the most detailed account to date of the failure to provide security for cultural heritage in Iraq after the US-led invasion. This was reviewed in the Weekly in May 2009.

In his book, Rothfield expressed the view that had the invasion and subsequent occupation been better planned for, and had the warnings of many individuals of different nationalities, including American, Iraqi and British, been heeded, then much, possibly most, of the destruction that occurred could have been avoided.

However, he also discussed what he called the "slow-motion disaster" of the looting of Iraq's archaeological and cultural sites, already highlighted by Garen and Carleton some years before. Many of these sites are still unprotected and even unexcavated, with finds being spirited abroad and sold on to unscrupulous dealers and collectors despite the existence of legal and other safeguards.

One estimate, quoted in Rothfield's book, suggests that between 400,000 and 600,000 artifacts were taken illegally from Iraqi archaeological sites between 2003 and 2005 alone, "an astounding figure," Rothfield wrote, representing "three to four times the number of artifacts gathered since the 1920s by the National Museum of Iraq."

In the absence of meaningful security at many sites, and with looting being "one of the few roads to riches in Iraq," it seems that this looting is continuing.

An answer to why this should be the case is contained in the latest publication to deal with the fate of Iraq's cultural heritage since the 2003 invasion, Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why Museums were Looted, Libraries Burned and Academics Murdered, a volume of essays by researchers from various countries edited by US and Canadian academics Raymond W. Baker, Shereen T. Ismael and Tareq Y. Ismael.

According to the editors' introduction, the disasters that have overtaken Iraq's cultural sites and institutions since the 2003 US-led invasion cannot, pace Rothfield, be put down to bad planning alone.

On the contrary, they write, the chaos that has overwhelmed Iraq since the first American tanks entered Baghdad seven years ago was carefully planned, and the "cleansing" of Iraqi culture, like the eradication of the country's educated class, a further effect of the invasion, was a significant US war aim.

"The war planners quite consciously and deliberately aimed for the destruction of the Iraqi state. They did so because a strong Iraq was an impediment to American imperial designs and Israeli insistence on unimpeded regional hegemony... Given the scope of the destruction that took place on their watch, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the occupiers understood that damaging the cultural underpinnings of Iraqi identity would also hasten the collapse of modern day Iraq."

"In just the same way, the apparent indifference and failure to respond to the decimation of the Iraqi intellectual class through targeted assassinations points to the conclusion that Iraq's occupiers and their allies had little interest in preserving the priceless human resources represented by Iraq's educated elite. Oil mattered and so Oil Ministry records were protected. The files of the Interior Ministry that would certainly have compromised both Americans and Israelis mattered and so they were protected. In contrast, priceless archaeological artifacts and leading scholars faced the looters and assassins alone."

Cultural Cleansing in Iraq contains essays by various hands on what is known about the losses suffered by Iraq's cultural heritage over the past seven years, including an overview of the destruction by Zainab Bahrani, a professor of archaeology at Columbia University in New York, and a particularly valuable account of losses to the country's libraries and archives by Nabil al-Tikriti.

This indicates that 25 percent of the book holdings of the Iraqi National Library and Archives were destroyed during the fires of 10-13 April 2003. Some 60 percent of the country's Ottoman and Hashemite archives were destroyed. While some 600-700 Islamic manuscripts were apparently destroyed in the fires that destroyed the library of the Ministry of Awqaf on 13-14 April 2003, a further 5,250 had been moved off site, though their whereabouts is unknown. The Ministry's collection of 45,000 printed books, including rare Ottoman Turkish works, was destroyed.

Al-Tikriti writes that the 47,000 manuscripts held in the Dar al-makhtutat al-iraqiyya, the Iraqi state manuscript collection, were moved off site before the invasion, though once again their current condition is unknown. The entire collection of the Bayt al-Hikma, a research facility, was lost. Over half the book collection of the Iraqi Academy of Sciences was destroyed. The condition of provincial libraries and manuscript collections is not known, though al-Takriti writes that the Centre for Gulf Studies in Basra was destroyed, along with the entire collection of Ottoman documents

One of the strangest episodes was the removal, by the Iraqi-American writer Kanan Makiya, of the entire Baath Party archives from Party headquarters in Baghdad and its deposition in California with US government assistance. This parallels the US's confiscation of millions of pages of captured Iraqi government documents, now held in a facility in Qatar.

However, despite the value of this documentary material perhaps the book's main interest lies in its account of the killings of the Iraqi intelligentsia since the 2003 invasion. In a series of useful essays, contributors to the book summarise what is known about the victims and perpetrators of these killings, arguing that the targeting of members of the country's intelligentsia, either killing them or driving them abroad, has been a direct consequence of the occupation.

According to Philip Marfleet, reader in Refugee Studies at the University of East London in the UK, the targeting of the intelligentsia in Iraq can be compared to the "instrumental use of terror... formalized by American intelligence agencies, notably the CIA," in Central America, particularly in Guatemala, El-Salvador and Nicaragua, in the second half of the last century.

Was there an "El-Salvador Option" at work in Iraq, he asks, quoting testimony provided to a British parliamentary commission by Ismail Jalili, former president of the Arab Medical Association, in 2007. Following "a methodical period of looting and destruction of Iraq's heritage, infrastructure, universities and libraries," there may have been "a plan to drain Iraq of its intellectuals and experts and dismantle its infrastructure along a pattern known as the 'El-Salvador Option' used in that country by the Pentagon."

Whether or not there was such a plan, the aim of which would have been to bring the state to its knees and "wipe the state clean," it seems clear that Iraq's intelligentsia has indeed been targeted and that little or no attempt has been made either by the Iraqi authorities or earlier by coalition forces to bring the perpetrators to justice.

According to a contribution by Max Fuller and Dirk Adriaensens, hundreds of Iraqi academics, both Sunni and Shia, have been targeted in organised killings since 2003, with no group or groups claiming responsibility. In cases of kidnapping ransoms have usually not been demanded, and there is evidence of state or para-state forces having been involved in at least some of the killings, as well as the country's various militias.

Fuller and Adriaensens comment that to date "none of the killers have been caught, and we are no closer to a detailed understanding of this horrific phenomenon." In their view, "it is important to recognize that what we actually appear to be witnessing is an institutionalized culture of impunity that is a common aspect of state-sanctioned terror and is endemic in the violence of counterinsurgency conflicts."

It is likely that "the US and the UK established the forces that offer by far the most likely means for the killings," they write. "For the immediate future, decimating Iraq's professional middle class ensures that the country remains dependent on US and other foreign expertise, providing a powerful means of political leverage."

Both Fuller and Adriaensens are members of the BRussells Tribunal, an international coalition of intellectuals and activists which has collected and published the names of Iraqi academics known to have been killed over the past seven years. The full list is available on the Tribunal's website. The edited version, printed as an appendix to this book, runs to 19 closely printed pages containing many hundreds of names.

Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why Museums were Looted, Libraries Burned and Academics Murdered, Raymond W. Baker, Shereen T. Ismael & Tareq Y. Ismael, eds., London: PlutoPress, 2010. pp298

Reviewed by David Tresilian