In recent months assassinations have targeted engineers, pharmacologists, officers, and lawyers.

More than 1000 leading Iraqi professionals and intellectuals have been assassinated since last April, among them such prominent figures as Dr Muhammad al-Rawi, the president of Baghdad University.

The identity of the assailants remains a mystery and none have been caught.

But families and colleagues of victims believe that Iraqi parties with foreign affiliations have an interest in wiping out Iraq's intellectual elite.

Media reports suggest that more than 3000 Iraqi academics and high-profile professionals have left Iraq recently, not to mention the thousands of Iraqis who are travelling out of the country every day in search of work and safety.

"Iraqis used to leave Iraq during the 13-year UN sanctions for better work opportunities, but they are leaving now to avoid being assassinated by unknown, well-organised death squads," said political analyst and politics professor Dhafir Salman.  

Usama al-Ani, director of the research and development department in the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research said top Iraqi scientists have been targeted by foreign parties.

"I believe Iraqi scientists are being targeted by foreign powers, most probably Israel." 

Terror campaign

Monday's issue of the pro-US Iraqi internet newspaper Iraq of Tomorrow reported that the decapitated body of mathematics professor Dr Abd al-Samai Abd al-Razaq had been found in a Baghdad street.

Aljazeera.net contacted Dr Abd al-Samai's family in Baghdad and was surprised to find him very much alive.

The al-Mustansiriya University in
Baghdad is 1000 years old

"They published such a story to terrify me and my family," he told Aljazeera.net, accusing political and religious parties of turning Iraqi universities into political battlefields.

"Since occupation, universities have become fertile recruitment ground for political and religious parties. Students should be devoted to their studies, not to serving the interests of those who seek power.

"These groups are targeting me and all my colleagues who want to preserve respected Iraqi institutions from destruction."   

De-Baathification

Aside from the terror campaign, measures taken by the post occupation authorities have contributed to Iraq's brain drain.

"I would like to ask the de-Baathification committee why they are so happy that many thousands of Baathists have been sacked from Iraq's governmental departments and educational institutions?" Salman says. "Do they think they have done well? Of course, not.

"They have sacked Iraq's elite professionals; who will replace them? Where will the replacements come from? After all, these people are Iraqis, is this in line with the national reconciliation they are talking about?"

Al-Ani: University equipment
destroyed by war and looting

Before the war on Iraq, US and UK officials repeatedly accused the Iraqi government of triggering the exodus of four million educated Iraqis.

But under the occupation the rate of emigration has increased.

"Iraqi universities have lost 1315 scientists who hold MA and PhD degrees," al-Ani said. "This number constitutes eight per cent of the 15,500 Iraqi academics.

"Up until now, 30% of those who were sacked as result of the campaign have left Iraq."

Education system

Iraq is rich in intellectuals, largely as a result of Saddam Hussein's policy of sending tens of thousands of Iraqi students abroad to gain post-graduate degrees in a wide range of disciplines.

The practice fell into abeyance when UN sanctions were imposed in 1990 following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

In the country itself, where education has been free since the abolition of the monarchy in 1958, most of the 20 universities in Iraq also awarded post-graduate degrees.