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The founder and head of the Iraqi Association of University Lecturers, Isam Kadhem F. al-Rawi, was assassinated on 30 October. This news strikes a blow to efforts to build scientific capacity in the country.

Al-Rawi, who was a candidate for the position of higher education and scientific research minister in Iraq, was shot dead by gunmen near his house in Baghdad in what appears to be a coordinated campaign against Iraqi intellectuals.

"Once again the wave of killing has reached a top Iraqi scientist, making it more difficult for promoting science development and establishing a knowledge-based economy in war-torn Iraq," Malik Alasmar, an Iraqi researcher based at the University of Ghent in Belgium, told SciDev.Net.

In June it was discovered that a hit list was being circulated among Iraqi assassins, calling for the murder of 461 scientists, university officials, engineers, doctors and journalists in Iraq (see Hit list names hundreds of Iraqi scientists).

Alasmar indicated that this new event highlights the importance of providing protection for Iraqi scientists given the current security crisis.

"The Iraqi authorities, the US-led coalition forces and international science and technology [organisations] as well as human rights organisations should take coordinated action to stop this ongoing murdering campaign of Iraqi scientists," he said.

Al-Rawi was a professor of geology at the Earth Sciences Department of the University of Baghdad, and had been cataloguing the assassinations of academics in occupied Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion.

He was a member of the Shoura council — a body that acts similarly to Western parliaments — of the Association of Muslim scholars in Iraq that represents Sunni Muslim religious leaders in Iraq.

He believed that assassins were targeting well-known Iraqi scholars in a coordinated effort to force them to leave the country, thus hindering the country's reconstruction.

Nabil Al-Tikriti, an Iraqi assistant professor at the US-based University of Mary Washington agrees a coordinated campaign, or perhaps several campaigns of intellectual 'liquidation' seem well underway in Iraq.

"Not a single one of those responsible for these 300 plus murders has ever been apprehended, and no public investigation of any of these murders has yet been launched."

"Al-Rawi died attempting to bring attention to this disturbing trend, and will be sorely missed by the Iraqi academic community whom he was striving to assist," Al-Tikriti told SciDev.Net.