- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

BAGHDAD — Even before bombings at a university killed at least 70 persons this week, Iraq’s universities were on the verge of collapse with scores of professors and students killed by Islamist militants.

Violence since the U.S.-led invasion nearly four years ago has driven thousands of students away, with enrollment off by more than half at some universities in the past year alone, officials say.

Terrorist attacks have killed at least 280 academics since 2003, and 3,250 others have fled the country, according to Iraq’s higher education ministry.

That fits into a pattern described in a U.N. report Tuesday, which noted the deliberate targeting of “various professional groups, including educators, medical professionals, journalists, judges and lawyers, religious and political leaders.”

Government officials say they are determined to keep the schools open despite the dangers.

“It would be a big blow against all of Iraq if universities closed down now,” said Basil Al-Khaleeb, spokesman for the higher education ministry. “We didn’t stop during the past two wars, and we’re working to continue during this war.”

He spoke shortly before Tuesday’s attack on Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, in which at least 70 persons died, mostly women.

Images of bloodstained notebooks and a burned-out minivan that students had been boarding were shown on satellite TV stations.

Sais Hussein, 21, a junior majoring in geography at Baghdad University, said he is unlikely to finish the school year.

“My mother was crying today because she saw the dead students and imagined I could be one of them,” Mr. Hussein said by telephone. “I would like to continue my classes, but my parents decided it’s too dangerous for me to return to school. I don’t know what to do.”

A spokesman in the administrative affairs office at Baghdad University said earlier this month that enrollment at the school’s main campus in the southern Jadiriyah section was down as much as 40 percent. At its Adhamiya campus, enrollment is down by more than half.

“Many, many have postponed their studies or come to campus just once a week,” said Zaineb Abdulmohee, a senior computer science major at Baghdad University.

Miss Abdulmohee, a 21-year-old in a head scarf and ankle-length skirt, was interviewed last month at the College of Women’s Education on the main campus of Baghdad University.

She estimated that 85 students had begun the year in her program, but there were no more than 35 before this week’s attacks.

Mustansiriya University, whose students are mainly Shi’ite Muslims, closed for two days of mourning after the attack.

Baghdad University’s main campus had closed for five days following recent threats, students and professors say.

“If [the violence] keeps up, I’m going to stop coming to my classes,” said Ehab Hassoon, a 21-year-old senior in his final semester at Baghdad University’s College of Science. “Life is more important than a diploma.”

Students are not the only ones suffering.

The Brookings Institution in Washington estimates that up to 40 percent of Iraq’s professionals have fled the country since the U.S.-led invasion.

“We don’t know who is doing this or why,” said Baghdad University political science professor Nabeal Younis, who has taught for more than two decades. “But we keep losing our colleagues.”

College instructors earn $1,000 to $1,500 per year, and those still teaching are taking extreme measures.

Nihad Al-Rawi, an assistant dean at Baghdad University and a professor of electrical engineering, has a gun in his office.

“I don’t want to use it, but what am I supposed to do if someone breaks into my office and tries to kidnap me? It’s a fact of life here nobody can deny,” Mr. Al-Rawi said as he displayed an old U.S.-made revolver.

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