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Researchers have responded to a recent news report on UNESCO's call for countries to work together to protect Iraq's academics from what it called a 'campaign of violence' (see Nearly 200 Iraqi academics killed since 2003).

Follow the links below to read a selection of comments SciDev.Net received.

Salah Aziz, coordinator of academic programmes, Florida A&M University and Florida State University College of Engineering, Tallahassee, United States

Hamed Saeedy, professor of civil engineering, former dean of the College of Engineering, University of Basra, Iraq

Nabil Al-Tikriti, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, United States

Chiara Sulmoni, Study and Research Centre for the Arab and Mediterranean World, Geneva, Switzerland


Salah Aziz, coordinator of academic programs, Florida A&M University and Florida State University College of Engineering, Tallahassee, United States

UNESCO's condemnation of the violence against Iraqi academics, whilst noble, is nevertheless too little, too late. Immediate action must be taken to stop the violence and to integrate what UNESCO's director general called the "custodians of Iraq's culture and learning" into efforts to rebuild the nation.

After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, many Iraqi scientists, researchers, and faculty members became victims of the new political reality because they fell into one of three categories.

They had participated in or knew about Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes; were affiliated with the Ba'ath party or Saddam's regime; or were against the new regime.

After the Second World War, many German scientists migrated to the West and the Soviet Union. Following the collapse of communist regimes in the early 1990s, the United States and the European Union provided massive financial and technical assistance to scientists from Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

In November 2003, the United States allocated US$2 million to find jobs for about 400 Iraqi scientists affiliated with the weapons programmes, and the Qatari government donated US$15 million to improve the higher education system in Iraq, including building human resources.

These efforts, while good-natured, have produced little relief and Iraq is witnessing ongoing violence and political instability.

UNESCO's call for "international solidarity and mobilisation in favour of education and educators in the country" will not be met until Iraq achieves security and political stability. Nevertheless, the gesture is important as it acknowledges that action is needed.

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Hamed Saeedy, professor of civil engineering, former dean of College of Engineering, University of Basra, Iraq

UNESCO can do much more to help these people, such as by putting pressure on the Iraqi authorities and coalition forces to provide academics with some sort of protection. But as the problem is ongoing, the UN should perhaps provide temporary asylum to Iraqi academics.

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Nabil Al-Tikriti, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, United States

This wave of targeted killings should be investigated. I am not sure what else international organisations can do to protect Iraq's scientists, other than provide visas for emigration.

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Chiara Sulmoni, Study and Research Center for the Arab and Mediterranean World, Geneva, Switzerland

The worsening plight of Iraqi academics and scientists, who are being constantly threatened, forced into exile or murdered, has prompted the Study and Research Center for the Arab and Mediterranean World to launch an international appeal calling for their protection.

The centre's director, Hasni Abidi, who has personally witnessed the situation of Iraqi academics, launched the appeal in an article published in the French newspaper Le Monde on 16 March.

In it, Abidi urged universities and research centres around the world to affiliate an Iraqi academic for up to three months — or longer if possible — so that he or she could get some respite from the dangers of everyday life in Iraq. Abidi also requested the Iraqi authorities, coalition forces and all other actors involved to take all necessary steps to protect Iraqi scientists and academics.

The centre's petition will be personally delivered to UNESCO, the UN High Commission on Human Rights, the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization, the Islamic Educational, Scientific And Cultural Organization, the Iraqi authorities in Baghdad and the US Central Command in Iraq.

To support the initiative or find out more, email [email protected] or visit: http://www.cermam.org/

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