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[CAIRO] The prime minister of Iraq, Ibrahim Jaafari, has appointed Bassima Yousef Boutros, a 44-year-old biochemist at Salah Eldin university in Erbil, as the country's new science and technology minister.

Boutros holds both a bachelor's and a master's degrees from the university in Erbil, and is currently studying for a doctorate from a Polish university.

In parallel with her scientific career, Boutros has been at the centre of the freedom movement of the ChaldoAssyrians, a sect of Christians living in Iraq who were often persecuted under the country's previous Baathist regime. She stood in the Iraqi election as a representative of the ChaldoAssyrian people.

Her appointment last week (3 May) came just over three months after Iraq's first elections following the ousting of former president Saddam Hussein.

Following the announcement, Boutros promised that she would "do all my best to use science and technology as the basis to build a civilised Iraq", although adding that the country was currently battling various hardships, and was "passing [through] a critical stage."

Boutros faces a tough task in her new post. As a result of years of underfunding, as well as the consequences of the recent US-led invasion, Iraqi science is in ruins, with under-equipped laboratories, few experienced scientists, and deteriorating science centres, institutes and universities.

Furthermore, some members ofIraq's scientific community are concerned that one factor influencing Boutros' appointment was the commitment by the prime minister to include seven women in the 36 cabinet members from different ethnic and religious factions.

But there is a widespread agreement that, whatever the motives behind Boutros's appointment, rebuilding Iraq's devastated science and technology infrastructure is an important task for the government.

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