Aid for Iraqi Students: Global Partnership for the International University of Iraq turns “reconstruction” on its feet

By Dr. Terri Ginsberg

NEW YORK: 18 Sept. 2007, ( Beginning in August 2008, a new and unprecedented humanitarian educational project, entitled International University of Iraq (IUI), will begin operations to help rebuild and renew higher education in that war-torn country. Initiated with a start-up grant from the Social Science Research Council of Canada along with intellectual guidance from the Public Lending Rights Commission of the Canadian Council of the Arts and pro-bono legal advice from several top Canadian law firms, IUI is a non-profit, non-sectarian, wholly private independent international university committed to critical, inquiry-based learning and research and the restoration of severely disrupted Iraqi connections to the international academic community.


Whereas the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq is largely responsible for the current devastation of Iraqi higher education, that country’s formerly world-class educational system had already been severely degraded under the U.S.-backed regime of international sanctions implemented by the UN Security Council following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and at U.S. insistence maintained until after its occupation of Iraq in 2003. The ongoing U.S.-led war and occupation have today brought nearly complete destruction of the country’s educational infrastructure, including museums, libraries, and cultural institutions. As a result, thousands of Iraqi students and faculty are without means for engaging in formal research, teaching, and learning.


IUI was envisaged during a 2003 academic conference in North Cyprus at the International Center for Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies, Eastern Mediterranean University. There a group of 10-12 scholars well-known for their research in Middle Eastern history and politics began brainstorming a way for the international academic community to help salvage what Tareq Ismael, Professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary, has referred to as Iraq’s “lost generation” of young people.


The general idea reached by these scholars was to establish an independent educational entity that would not only help restore higher education in Iraq by reconnecting Iraqi faculty and students to the international academic community, but would also demonstrate a new model of non-profit, private education that could stimulate regional educational reform in the Arab and Muslim world. IUI would uphold a collegiate model that is respectful of Iraq’s historic role as a center of human civilization and of the pluralist, rationalist, and scientific traditions within Islamic culture. It would enroll women as well as men into courses of instruction in the humanities, social, and natural sciences. These courses would be taught by distinguished international faculty whose pedagogy would help replace entrenched patterns of rote memorization with rigorous, imaginative thinking that could generate—not simply transmit—knowledge, and that would encourage creative engagement with the diverse educational cultures of Iraq. Especially important to the project of Iraqi reconstruction would be courses in political science, law, economics, public services, medicine, computer and media technology, engineering, cultural studies, and English—IUI’s official language of instruction.


Following the 2003 Middle Eastern Studies conference in North Cyprus, efforts by Ismael, who subsequently secured the start-up grant from Canada, and several of the other attending scholars, including Norton Mezvinsky, University Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University, and Raymond Baker, Professor of International Politics at Trinity College, led to the securing of a building offer and a 25-acre land-grant from the University of Baghdad, conceived as the eventual site of the IUI central campus. When it soon became evident, however, that wartime exigencies were making it inadvisable, indeed nearly impossible for IUI to launch itself in Iraq, Ismael, Mezvinsky, and Baker began traveling extensively, at their own expense, throughout the Middle East in search of alternative, pilot locations in adjacent regions and countries. They met frequently with high-level officials in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey, and visited potential sites there as well as in Irbil, capitol of the Kurdish region of Iraq. Through discussions involving Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador to the U.S., an interim agreement was reached with Kalamoon University in Deir Ateyah, Syria (40-60 kilometers from Damascus), which is prepared to host up to 20 Iraqi graduate students and some undergraduates next September, many of whom are refugees residing temporarily in Syria. Implementation of IUI at the University of Petra in Amman, Jordan is also under serious negotiation, as is a program for the Connecticut State University system, which is being asked to consider hosting at least two Iraqi students at each of its four, state-wide campuses.


Iraqi students enrolled in IUI will receive tuition, housing, and food from their host universities. In turn, IUI’s parent organization, Global Partnership for the International University of Iraq (GP-IUI), now an official Canadian NGO steered by Ismael and Baker along with John Waggett, former Associate Academic Dean of Faculty at Trinity College, and Richard Judd, President Emeritus of Central Connecticut State University, will reciprocate in a proportionate way by making available to host universities a variety of educational resources, including guest lectures, seminars, and large-scale conferences in which prominent figures associated with IUI will participate, and which should enhance the host universities’ global visibility in the area of Middle Eastern studies. GP-IUI’s list of 32 international advisors and liaisons is indeed impressive, as it counts among its members Fuad Sha’ban, Dean and Professor of English at the University of Petra, Tim Niblock, Director of the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter (UK), Yasushi Kosugi, President of the Japanese Association of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Kyoto (Japan), Enid Hill, Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Law at American University in Cairo (Egypt), Andrzej Wiszniewski, Rector of Wroclaw Technical University (Poland), Ali Mazrui, Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University (USA), Guenter Meyer, Director of the Center for Research on the Arab World, University of Mainz (Germany), Dr. Bruno Ficili, President of the International Association on Peace Education (Italy), and Ali El-Shirhan, former Minister of Education (United Arab Emirates).


GP-IUI is currently seeking additional financial assistance so that it may expand its pilot efforts in the face of increasingly difficult conditions on the ground in Baghdad. The organization is now discussing further project support with the Canadian government and has made presentations about IUI to public and private groups in Japan, Jordan, the Gulf States, Syria, Turkey, Canada, and the UK. These efforts will continue, while the long-term goal of IUI in its current phase is for participating Iraqi students eventually to return to IUI’s proposed central campus in Baghdad when conditions become favorable enough for them to do so.

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About Dr. Terri Ginsberg

Terri Ginsberg is a film scholar and Palestine solidarity activist based in New York City. She is co-author of Historical Dictionary of Middle Eastern Cinema (2010), author of Holocaust Film: The Political Aesthetics of Ideology (2007), and co-editor of A Companion to German Cinema (2012). She is active in New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership, coordinates the Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism, and is a Board member of the International Council for Middle East Studies.

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