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In Iraqi Colleges, Fear for an Already Shrunken Realm

Students enter Baghdad University to hear an address by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the wake of a mass abduction at a higher education agency Tuesday.
Students enter Baghdad University to hear an address by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the wake of a mass abduction at a higher education agency Tuesday. (Pool Photo By Hadi Mizban Via Getty Images)

But his audience was more interested about his plans for Iraq's universities. Several students and professors stood up to ask him questions about how he would shield them from the chaos infecting Iraq. Maliki said he would ban pictures, leaflets, placards or other politically inspired materials from campuses "because the universities shall remain outside partisan politics or sectarian affiliation." He also promised that the government would "allocate funds to support students" and that professors and students would be protected.

"I hope you will continue your studies vigorously and not bow in front of those who want to paralyze our universities," Maliki told the gathering. "We regret what happened yesterday, but the government's reaction was strong."

In Kirkuk, Essam Muhedeen Arzad, a student at the College of Education, said Maliki's words calmed him. "I feel very sad for what has happened, particularly since we are in Iraq, which is the land of civilization and learning," Arzad said. "We need to capture those who are responsible for this act and bring them to justice to show the world that we are a nation of civilized people and will not accept such terrorist acts."

But for other college students, the abductions were a tipping point. For months, Faiha Abdul Jabar, in her second year studying science at Diyala University, said she was thinking of quitting her studies and staying home. A few hours after the assault, she was convinced.

"As a girl, I have a lot of fears from what happened yesterday," Abdul Jabar said. "Those armed men were able to storm into a governmental office and kidnap all the employees, and no one was able to save them or protect them. So what will happen to us if armed men stormed our college and kidnapped us?"

"The government is responsible for what is happening, and the government is responsible for making me lose this year," she added.

Zaman Adam Ali, who is studying English at Diyala University, also quit her studies on Tuesday, along with her two sisters, Eman and Hanan. "The government is responsible for destroying our future," Ali said.

Like almost every upheaval nowadays in Iraq, the kidnappings are being viewed through a prism of sectarianism. Muhammad Jamal, a law student at Tikrit University, sees the political disputes as an attempt by Shiite officials, hardened by sectarian divisions, to "lessen the importance" of the assaults. "This action is proof that we have a sectarian government," he said.

In a parking lot at Baghdad University on Wednesday, Lena Sadhi and Fatima Salim were standing next to a white car. Two hours earlier, they and other students had staged a protest. They heard that the Ministry of Higher Education was considering shutting down universities in the capital in the wake of the abductions, citing poor security. But they were hungry for education.

"The government doesn't want to continue our studies. That's why we protested," said Salim, who wore an aquamarine head scarf. "Why can people in the north and in the south be able to finish their studies and we can't?"

But Salim was also angry at the kidnappers. "They want our life to collapse," she said. "The only life we have is the university."

Special correspondents Muhanned Saif Aldin in Tikrit and Hasan Shammari in Diyala and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

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