Iraqi intellectuals under siege

Grief physically overwhelms Dr Bushra al-Rawi. Months after Dr Muhammad al-Rawi was murdered, she wishes her husband had taken the threats on his life more seriously.

    Many intellectuals like al-Rawi have been murdered

    The night of 27 July 2003 is painfully clear in Bushra's memory. Two men entered the private clinic of the doctor, who was then president of Baghdad University.

    One of them feigned severe stomach pain and was doubled over. C

    oncealed against his stomach was a gun with which he shot al-Rawi. The father of three died instantly. 

    The dead man's name was on an ominous list naming professors, intellectuals and academics marked for assassination after the US-led occupation of Iraq.

    Although al-Rawi heard he was on the list, he did not take it seriously, says Bushra.
    "He would say that he had no enemies. He would say to me 'I am a scientist and a doctor'," she says.

    Purge suspected

    During the years of UN-imposed sanctions, thousands of Iraq's most talented professionals left the country. And almost one year after the recent US-led war, about 2000 professors and academics have fled.

    Many academics fear a deliberate brain drain is now being executed through murder.

    "The mukhabarat (secret intelligence) of all the surrounding countries are active here: Mossad, the Iranians, Turks, Kuwaitis, Jordanians, Syrians," says one academic who asked not be named. "They are settling scores with each other, with the Americans and the Americans with them."

    The fear of the gun has cast a
    shadow on students and teachers

    But who is behind the murders?

    General Ahmad Katham Ibrahim, deputy interior minister, claims Baathists, fearing that intellectuals will divulge information on alleged weapons programmes, are assassinating them.

    However, not all black-listed professors come from the field of science: many have either journalism, political science or even literature backgrounds.

    But Ibrahim insists all those threatened have or had knowledge of illegal arms.  

    Under the former government, academics wanting to join educational institutions had to swear allegiance to the Baath party, making virtually everybody a member.

    Al-Rawi and his colleagues were Baathists. But there is little hatred for this man. Black banners mourning his death still fly across the university's different campuses.

    "He had dreams to improve the university. He would tell me 'the country is not Saddam Hussein's …This is our country and our children's country'," says Bushra.

    Bushra's sons, aged 22, 17 and 15, want to know who murdered their father. They want closure. But it will be difficult as police have refused to investigate the murder.

    Many missing
    The name of Gulshan Husayn's husband was on the same list as al-Rawi.

    Even after al-Rawi's murder, Dr Ali al-Zaak, dean of Genetic Engineering at the Bio-Technology Institute of Baghdad University, refused to leave the country.

    "My husband's name was on a list of people wanted by the Americans," says the mother of two.

    On 27 January, US occupation forces detained al-Zaak. They refuse to tell Gulshan why and where her husband is being held.

    Al-Zaak's ordeal began on 31 May last year. US soldiers dressed in civilian clothing, but under tank protection appeared at his office, saying they wanted to "bridge gaps in the field of science", says Gulshan.

    Secret meetings  

    "Why are they still detaining university professors if they are re-analysing their own intelligence on whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction?"

    Gulshan Husayn,
    wife of

    Dr Ali al-Zaak,
    detained dean of Genetic Engineering, Baghdad University

    Initially, interrogators would meet al-Zaak on campus to question him on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction programme. But when an American officer was killed on campus, they demanded to meet him outside the university.

    Despite the fact that the new university president ordered professors not to meet occupation authorities off campus, al-Zaak continued to cooperate, meeting US officials in different hotels.

    Al-Zaak kept a record of his meetings, including the dates, locations and first names of the interrogators.

    False relief   

    Finally, on 18 August, al-Zaak was told he had been removed from the "black list". A degree of normalcy returned to their lives.

    But it was too short a relief. When professors began to be assassinated, the university issued a memo asking them to take gun licenses for protection.

    The day al-Zaak was scheduled to pick up his license from US authorities, Gulshan told her husband to be home by 3:30pm for lunch.

    But he did not make it.

    Months after he was told that his name was cleared, US soldiers detained al-Zaak.

    "Why are they still detaining university professors if they are re-analysing their own intelligence on whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction?" Gulshan asks.


    Professors formerly detained by US forces recount harrowing tales. Some were held in suspended cages and ordered not to speak to their neighbours. Others are too traumatized to discuss the ordeal.

    Gulshan, refusing to have her picture taken, is terrified her husband will share al-Rawi's fate.

    Many academics describe how they began receiving single bullets and verbal warnings for their staunch anti-occupation stances and calls for Iraqis to resist the invasion.

    The head of a research institute at Baghdad University, who did not want to be named, is one of them.

    A well-known critic of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, she has appeared on Arab satellite channels slamming the presence of US occupation forces, particularly in the campus. 

    Some of her colleagues, who welcomed the invasion, were incensed that her criticism of the occupation was being beamed to millions of homes.

    That is when some of her colleagues confided to her that department members wanted her dead. 

    "They just made me firmer in my positions," she says. But when the oldest of her three children confronted her, saying they needed their mother, she decided to tone down her criticism. 

    Hasty retreats

    Hundreds of other academics have retreated to their homes. They have no extra protection and cannot turn to US forces, who have accused some of them of being Saddam loyalists.

    They can only ask questions.

    And Gulshan can only wait.

    "Does it look like we had ties to Saddam?" she asks, gesturing around her modest apartment.

    "If they want to stop our education movement, let them just do it."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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