Politics routs academics at Basra University


By JACK FAIRWEATHER

IT was a university report that any aspiring young Ba’athist would have been proud of. “Comrade Nadir Hussein,’’ it read, “attendance: excellent; intellectual ability: good; relationship with other comrades: good; military experience: fair; potential for promotion in the party: excellent.’’ 

Secured on Monday by the recce platoon of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, newly liberated Basra University resembled more a paramilitary training camp for the Ba’ath Party than a centre of academic excellence. 

Shifting through the debris after 24 hours of looting at the campus in the wake of the British advance, Nadir’s report was one of thousands of such files recording students Ba’athist credentials locked up in a store cupboard of the administration block. 

On the walls of the building, between oil paintings of a studious looking Saddam Hussein, were charts listing lecturers, number of scholars and the armoury of each faculty, promising the day “manhood’’ would come soon. 

“Agricultural Department,’’ read one, “Senior Lecturer, Major Hamid Jalabi, 196 students, 200 AK47s, 20 rocket propelled grenades and 10 handguns.’’ 

In the university’s staff room, a map showed the network of Ba’ath Party headquarters radiating from the university. 

Militia groups had earlier launched attacks from the party headquarters against the British lines surrounding the city but by the time the Fusiliers reached the campus it was deserted. 

“We knew the university was a militia stronghold but I never realised until now how deeply Saddam and the Ba’ath Party had got into people’s lives,’’ said Capt Ed Pugh. Behind him a placard read in Arabic script: To be loved by the people is to be a member of the Ba’ath Party. 

Ba’ath Party ideology had clearly reduced the academic curriculum to a form of state flattery. 

Though looting had left most rooms bare, the library was untouched, whether as an indication of the fear with which Saddam Hussein is still held or through a degree of discernment on the part of the looters. 

The walls of the library were filled with scholarly tomes written by the dictator, including Revolution and National Education, Socialism: Our Own Private Way, and a collection of speeches, entitled The Mother of All Speeches and Speeches of Revolution and Victory. 

Stapled to one thesis was a handwritten letter to the Iraqi leader: “To our beloved President Saddam Hussein, on the occasion of his birthday I would like to give as a present my thesis on the reproductive patterns of Iraqi beetles.’’ 

Ali Hakimi, a former student, went to the university gates to find out when lessons would be starting again. He readily confessed to be being a Ba’ath Party member. 

“The only way to study in this country is to join the party. We joined because we had to although I know more about guns now than agriculture which I was studying.’’ 

Another student, Jaber, said: “We didn’t do anything bad other than guard duty at the campus. 

“Do you know the worst thing about studying here? The compulsory lectures about socialism, the Ba’ath Party and about Saddam Hussein. 

“A member of the secret services would check lecture attendance and then begin to talk about how great Saddam Hussein was.’’  

Both Ali and Jaber began to reel off a list of epithets as if in a trance: “Saddam the great, Saddam our saviour, Saddam at the right hand of the Prophet Muhammad.”  

“We were taught that he had created the Iraqi nation. It was very boring,’’ said Jaber. 

Presented with a textbook, entitled Saddam’s Glorious Reflections on Economics, Jaber became angry. “It’s a complete lie,’’ he said. 

“In that book, Saddam says we must give away our money to the party or the country is lost. We have given away everything we had and Iraq is still ruined.’’ 

Around the campus, other faculty buildings had been stripped bare by looters whilst outside lay broken photocopying machines, test tubes of blood from the laboratories and torn textbooks. 

Cpl Dean Reed saw the looters at work at dawn, before they were stopped by British forces. 

“I saw an old women pushing a fridge out of one building,’’ he said. “She came across a picture of Saddam Hussein and left the fridge to begin tearing it to pieces. 

“Everyone stopped and cheered her before they returned to stripping the buildings. It’s pretty depressing,’’ added Cpl Reed. – © The Telegraph Group Ltd, London 

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