The first documented case is that of Muhamad al-Rawi, the president of Baghdad University, who was killed on 27 July, 2003, when two men entered his private clinic, one of them feigned severe stomach pain and was doubled over. Concealed against his stomach was a gun with which he shot al-Rawi dead.
Assassination incidents continued after al-Rawi's shooting. Dr Majid Ali was assassinated in 2005, shot four times in the back. He had a PhD in physics and was one of the best nuclear energy experts in Iraq.
The Paris-based Arab Committee for Human Rights (ACHR), an international NGO which has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN, has issued an international appeal for help to protect Iraqi academics.
Al Jazeera.net spoke to ACHR's president, Dr Violette Daguerre, a human rights activist and psychology professor in France, and Dr Qais al-Azawi, director of the Committee for Protecting Iraqi University Professors.
Has ACHR taken action to prevent the assassination of Iraqi scholars?
Daguerre: We are actually moving within a well-organised network of firms involved in defending freedom and academics. The network is big and includes organisations in North America, Europe and other parts of the world.
Dr al-Rawi was assassinated
on 27 July 2003
I also think it is important to classify the assassinated scholars according to their specialisations so that their trade unions and syndicates can move accordingly. I would also like to stress here that journalists should put in more effort in this regard, as this crucial issue is not getting the proper attention in media.
Al-Azawi: Urgent contacts have been made with Iraqi and international organisations. We work closely with Iraqi trade unions that represent Iraqi professors.
We also met the Qatari ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and we are discussing with them how can we protect Iraqi academics.
Since our campaign has found support among academic organisations in different parts of the world, a suggestion has been made that each interested university would host three Iraqi university professors for one year as visiting lecturers to keep them away from dangers in their own country.
The general perception is that scholars targeted are those who specialise in the sciences and who were, or might be, of use to weapons of mass destruction programmes. In your view, what is the explanation behind the assassination of scholars working in fields such as Arab literature and history?
Daguerre: I think the target is intellectuals in general, regardless of their field of specialisation - they are all important to their country's renaissance. Iraq is known for producing high-calibre people not only in the scientific field but also in the humanities. I can mention here Jawad Ali, who is regarded as an authority on pre-Islamic Arab history, and Abdul Aziz al-Douri, an expert in Arab economic history. But there are many others. I think the role of Iraqis in Arab poetry, literature and jurisprudence goes without saying.
Here I would like to notify you of another dangerous phenomenon growing in Iraq, the targeting of human rights activists and lawyers.
Al-Azawi: All cases were dropped
for the lack of evidence
Al-Azawi: High-calibre academics in general are regarded as the backbone for the development in any country.
Do you think the assassinations are politically motivated?
Daguerre: Assassinating chosen scholars would hit Iraqis' spirit and consequently deepen the rift among Iraqi factions, which is what Iraq's enemies want, although death can hit any Iraqi.
The assassination policy has been adopted by all ideological groups, who have convinced assassins that if what they do does not serve the country, it definitely serves their faction or group, which is not necessarily national.
The Lebanese civil war is a good example that assassins might be fellow countrymen of the victim but they are working within a network of foreign interests and implementing a plan put before the war.
Al-Azawi: Our information indicates that some assassinations are of a sectarian or political nature.
What is your evidence that the assassination campaign is directed by foreign parties?
Daguerre: Nationalists cannot work for the destruction of their own country, and the evidence is logic. Foreign parties do not reveal their agenda; as long as there is a party from inside the targeted country willing to do the dirty job, why would a foreign party involve itself in public?
What about sectarian motives?
Daguerre: It is obvious that there is a plan to provoke sectarian violence in this country. I think sectarian violence is one of the key elements of a plot aimed at destroying Iraq.
Sectarian tension and violence grow along with fear. When fear controls you, you tend to get terrified of others who are different from you. Fear would prevent you from analysing that difference, how important it is, How big it is. You just delude yourself with the notion that the other person is different - so he is the enemy.
Iraqis from all religions, sects,
and ethnicities are being killed
When the culture of fear rules, the distance among different religious, political or sectarian groups becomes huge, and people tend to isolate themselves from the bigger society. They become attached to their closest bond which might be the sect, the tribe, or the political party.
Have you made contact with academics inside Iraq to find out if the government has taken action to protect scientists and scholars?
Daguerre: The co-ordination is going on with the Iraqi committee for protecting Iraqi university professors, which has recently issued an SOS calling the international community to protect Iraqi scientists and scholars.
What we are trying to do in the Arab Committee for Human Rights is to be the bridge between Arab countries and the rest of the world.
Who do you think will benefit from targeting Iraqi scientists?
Daguerre: The same parties that have been working for years to make this country fall to pieces, and prevent it from retaining its original key role in the area. Maybe it was Iraq's bad luck to have that huge oil wealth after all.
It was not comfortable for some that this country was investing its own wealth in its own way; they decided to deny Iraqis this legitimate right.
Successive US administrations have always fallen prey to Jewish lobbies. Their strategy is to launch a massive character assassination campaign followed by insulting and degrading actions that would destroy the target's will and morale before giving the final blow.
Al-Azawi: Based on our correspondents and meeting with dozens of Iraqi academics, all of them were convinced that they were targeted by "parties interested in preventing Iraq from moving forward".
Scenarios circulated among Iraqis point the finger at the US-led forces in Iraq, and at Iran and Israel. What do you think of that?
Daguerre: Examples prove that the involvement of those parties is a lot, especially the Israelis, as all those parties have interest in tearing Iraq apart in order to pass their geopolitical and economical plans.
Al-Azawi: Maybe both of them [Iran and Israel] are involved in this killing campaign, but to be objective we do not have solid evidence to prove that.
But we have many cases of Iraqi professors kidnapped and were not released before they made clear commitment to leave Iraq. Iraqis know very well who is interested in keeping them behind.
What is the impact of the "assassination campaign" on Iraq's educational system?
Daguerre: Definitely the negative impact is huge, because that terror campaign is pushing many scientists and scholars to leave their country [Iraq].
This is a major blow to the process of conveying knowledge to the coming generations, which will need such quality people to plant the culture of civil and modern society and brush aside the culture of sectarianism, violence and hate.
Al-Azawi: I would like here to cite a statement made by the Iraqi minister of higher education in which he said: Nearly 160 Iraqi university professors have been killed, and nearly 2,000 have fled the country, which led to the closure of 152 post-graduate departments in Iraq.
How is the Iraqi government dealing with the assassination of scientists and scholars? Are there criminal investigations? Any results?
Daguerre: Let me answer this by raising a counter question; Do the current rulers of Iraq have any sort of genuine interest in launching such investigations?
I believe that as long as the violence and extremism continues in Iraq, its foreign enemies will continue to act like ticks, sucking the blood of the country and stripping it of its defence potential.
I would like to seize this opportunity to urge the world's biggest organisation for academics' rights, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington, to intervene.
Two of ACHR staff got NAS's award for human rights - Haytham Manna and Moncef Marzouki - and just as the Guantanamo issue gained international coverage after the efforts of NGOs, we hope that the case of the assassinations will be brought into the spotlight as well.
Al-Azawi: All the cases were dropped for the lack of evidence.