Christophe Callewaert, DeWereldMorgen.be
March 16, 2011
The handing over of the Ghent Charter in Defense of Iraqi Academia by Hans von Sponeck to Ms Marie-Paule Roudil, representative of UNESCO in Brussels, during the official signing ceremony, 8 March 2011
In the past eight years hundreds of academics have been killed in Iraq. They were not accidental victims of the violence prevailing in the country, but the target of a focused and systematic campaign to destroy the Iraqi state, researchers say. In Ghent specialists from all over the world gathered to investigate the humanitarian catastrophe.
MENARG (Middle East and North African Research Group) of Ghent University, the BRussells Tribunal, and numerous other organizations brought together the cream of Iraq specialists at the Aula in Ghent. For three days they have talked about the "least known humanitarian crisis" (in the words of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres).
These figures are staggering. The BRussells Tribunal collected 455 files on murdered academics. The number of teachers in Baghdad has fallen by 80 percent. In the two years after the start of the war in Iraq 84 percent of higher education institutions were looted, destroyed or burned. More than 335 students and staff died or were seriously injured by bombings of Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. Approximately 40 percent of the Iraqi middle class has fled the country.
The researchers say the destruction of academic life in Iraq is no side effect of the war. "This is the official theory of the Iraqi government. The academic community was -like the rest of Iraq- victim of ethnic and sectarian violence after the invasion.
Our research shows that academics as a group are the target of violence," said Pedro Rojo from CEOSI, who has written several books on Iraq.
Who was and is behind that violence?
Pedro Rojo: "Firstly, the militias aligned to the government. They want to destroy the education system. There is also the Mossad (Israeli Security Agency, ed) that targeted scientists who have or may have had a hand in the production of weapons of mass destruction."
Why?But why would someone destroy the education of a country?
According to the American Professor Raymond Baker Iraq is a clear case of "state ending". The aim of the war was the destruction of the Iraqi state. The killings of academics are a part of that war strategy.
Former UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, said the attempt to destroy the Iraqi state started much earlier. "It started in 1990 with the sanctions after Iraq invaded Kuwait. The oil for food program could have been adequate, but it was not. The UN was simply abused as a tool to destroy Iraq. They could have saved at least primary education, but they did not. Then I realized that the US wanted to destroy the old Iraq to create a new Iraq," said von Sponeck, who resigned in 2000.
The researchers in Ghent do not only want to accuse, but also try to formulate solutions. "We need a network of Iraqi and European researchers who through a thorough research can map the situation in Iraq," said Pedro Rojo. "It is not enough to say that there is now a "blossoming" democracy in Iraq and that we can rebuild the country. The murderers are still waving the stick. Impunity is the problem. "
Von Sponeck also calls for objective and fair research and investigation. "Non-ideological and no hidden agendas. So other people can better defend the Iraqi cause. Ending the occupation seems to be a prerequisite to have hope for change. At this time throughout the Arab world, young people are on the streets. An ideal time to those who give objective information," said von Sponeck. The Arab riots are encouraging.
The Iraqi writer Haifa Zangana has hopes for her homeland. "Over the last two months there were constant demonstrations. Even in areas where there were never demonstrations before, like in the Kurdish provinces. The people on the streets formulate a rainbow of demands. But the repression has been merciless. 31 protesters have already been killed. And in the Western media there is a total blackout. As if there is no more occupation, as if democracy flourishes in Iraq again."
(Translation: Dirk Adriaensens, member of the BRussells Tribunal executive Committee)