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X. Attacks on Intellectuals and Professionals

Since late 2003, various armed groups have targeted Iraq’s intellectual and professional class, including professors, doctors and lawyers. The goals are diverse. In some cases, abductions are criminally motivated, because professionals are believed to have more money to pay in ransom. But some killings appear politically motivated, either because the victim had expressed support for the U.S.-led invasion or criticism of the insurgency, or because the attackers believed the person held such views.

Some Iraqi academics see the attacks as a way to destroy Iraq’s intellectual elite. “The victims cover a wide spectrum of research interests, different politics and different religious convictions. The only common denominator is their excellence,” said Sa`adun `Issa, vice-chancellor of al-Nahrain University in Baghdad. “I think there’s a plan to strip Iraq of its scientific backbone.”278

“We think it’s politically motivated,” a senior Education Ministry official said. The attacks are a devastating blow—“not only because of the number killed, but because of their quality.”279

The intimidation and killing of intellectuals and professionals impedes governance, complicates work for security forces and weakens the economy, according to Anthony H. Cordesman, an insurgency expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. The pattern of attacks on professionals, he says, “exacerbates the feeling of insecurity to the point where people lose faith in the Iraqi government, Coalition, and political process.”280

Precise figures are difficult to obtain, but studies suggest that doctors and academics are particularly at risk. According to a study by the Iraqi Ministry of Health concluded in April 2005, armed groups have abducted between 160 and 300 Iraqi doctors since April 2003, and killed more than twenty-five, although the study did not distinguish between criminal and politically motivated attacks. Nearly 1,000 doctors have fled the country, the study said, with an average of thirty more following each month.281 To stem the outflow, the ministry broadcast a public service announcement on television in spring 2005, with a message that said: “Dear Citizens, please do not kill doctors—you may need them one day.”282 In May 2005, the Interior Ministry gave doctors the right to carry a weapon for self-defense.283

Professors at Iraq’s once prestigious universities and technical colleges are also under attack. According to an April 2005 United Nations University report, assassins have killed forty-eight academics since 2003, and many more teachers and professors brave daily threats.284 According to the Iraqi Minister of Higher Education, as of June 2005, attackers had killed more than sixty professors since the beginning of the war, although he did not specify how they died. The highest percentage of those had scientific backgrounds, he said.285

One of the first victims was Falah Hussein, deputy dean of the college of sciences at al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, who unknown gunmen killed in May 2003. Next was the assassination by unknown gunmen of Dr. Muhammad al-Rawi, president of Baghdad University, that July.286

One of the more prominent cases was the killing of `Abd al-Latif al-Mayah, a human rights advocate and political science professor at al-Mustansiriya University. On January 19, 2004, eight masked gunmen stopped him as he drove to work. They pulled him to the street, the Iraqi police said, and shot him dead in front of his bodyguard and another university lecturer.287

On June 19, 2005, unknown gunmen shot and killed engineer Sattar Sabbar al-Khazraji, a professor at the Technology University in Baghdad. According to the Iraqi newspaper al-Sharqiyah, two men on a motorcycle shot al-Khazraji in front of his house in the western Baghdad area of al-Hurriyah al-Thaniyah.288

Most recently, in the last week of August, three more Baghdad academics died. According to Azzaman, an Iraqi daily newspaper, unknown gunmen killed Zaki al-Ani from al-Mustansiriyya University’s College of Arts, and Hashim `Abd al-Amir from the College of Education on August 27 near the university’s main entrance. A third professor, Samir Yalda of the College of Economics and Administration had been kidnapped two days earlier, and his body was found the same day.289

The violence has hit other cities as well. In November 2003, unknown men reportedly assassinated Asa`ad al-Sharida, dean of the engineering college in Basra. Two months later, assailants stabbed to death Muhammad Qasim, a teacher in Basra’s technical college.290

In Mosul on June 22, 2004, unknown assailants killed the dean of Mosul University’s Law School, Laila `Abdullah Sa`ad, together with her husband Munir al-Khairu. According to the Iraqi police, the attackers slit both their throats.291

Hundreds of academics and professionals have been threatened with death and told to leave Iraq. According to the Association of University Teachers, 2,000 professors have left Iraq since 2003, joining the 10,000 professors the association says left the country in the twelve years after the Gulf War.292

“I was given one week,” the director of the Institute of Radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine in Baghdad told one journalist. “But I can’t quit. If I step down, nobody would come and take my place.”293 Others have taken the threats to heart and fled the country, usually for Damascus or Amman.

“We are losing the brain power of our most brilliant doctors,” said Dr. Sami Salman, director of the Special Care Hospital at Baghdad’s Medical City complex. “You just can’t replace them overnight.”294

[278] Ed Blanche, “Exodus From Terror,” The Middle East, April 1, 2005.

[279] Ibid.

[280]Anthony H. Cordesman, “Iraq’s Evolving Insurgency,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, Updated as of May 19, 2005.

[281] Ali Rifat and Hala Jaber, “Kidnap Gangs Force Doctors to Flee Iraq,” The Times, June 5, 2005.

[282] Deborah Amos, “Iraqi Seeks to Protect Medical Workers,” aired on National Public Radio, June 13, 2005.

[283] Scott Peterson, “Iraq’s Ministries Struggle to Serve,” Christian Science Monitor, May 13, 2005. For another article about attacks on doctors, see Robin Shulman, “Violence Targets Iraqi Doctors Seen as Rich, Connected,” Washington Post, September 12, 2004.

[284] United Nations University press release, “5/6ths of Iraq’s Higher Learning Institutions Burnt, Looted, Wrecked; 48 Profs Slain; UNU Calls for World Help to Repair System,” April 27, 2005.

[285]Al-Mashriq, June 18, 2005.

[286] Annia Ciezadlo, “Death to Those Who Dare to Speak Out, Christian Science Monitor, April 30, 2004.

[287] Jeffrey Gettleman, “Assassinations Tear into Iraq’s Educated Class,” New York Times, February 6, 2004.

[288] Al-Sharqiyah, June 19, 2005.

[289] Katherine Zoepf, “3 More Professors Are Killed in Iraq, as Flight of Academics Intensifies,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 31, 2005.

[290] Jeffrey Gettleman, “Assassinations Tear into Iraq’s Educated Class,” New York Times, February 6, 2004.

[291] “Head of Mosul Law Faculty and Her Husband Killed in Northern Iraq: Police,” Agence France-Presse, June 22, 2004,and Peter Y. Hong and Barbara Demick, “South Korean Held in Iraq is Beheaded,” Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2004.

[292] Howard LaFranchi, “Iraq Losing its Best and Brightest,” Christian Science Monitor, September 21, 2004.

[293] Jeffrey Gettleman, “Assassinations Tear into Iraq’s Educated Class,” New York Times, February 6, 2004.

[294] Ahmed Mukhtar, “Where is This Going?” Al-Ahram Weekly, June 10-16, 2004, available at, as of July 16, 2005.

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