Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mutanabi Street Attack Targeted Baghdad's Intellectual Nerve Center

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq by coalition forces, the middle class and intellectual classes in Iraq have been under siege, but the March 5 suicide attack on Mutanabi Street, the heart of Baghdad’s intelligentsia community brought the targeting of Iraq’s educated middle class into sharp focus.

Since the invasion and the fall of Hussein, 200 university professors, 110 physicians, and dozens of journalists have been assassinated by militias and death squads. Thousands more have fled the chaos, leading to an Iraqi diaspora of 2 million refugees who have fled the country with an additional 1.8 million internally displaced.

It was Iraq’s largely secular, educated, mostly urban dwelling middle class that had the most to gain from the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime.

Now, four years later, it has practically been extincted. Iraq’s museums have been looted and burned, as have libraries, bookstores and archaeological digs.

Professors and professionals are hunted down and slaughtered. Businessmen and engineers are kidnapped for hefty ransoms. Those who have not fled, live in fear and wonder aloud “Who will be left to pick up the pieces once the fighting is done?”

There was a time, not so long ago, that Iraq was a modern secular society. Now, that is gone. The infrastructure is rubble, the education and healthcare delivery systems barely function, and a generation of technical expertise has fled or been killed, leaving a vacuum that is impossible to fill.

There are too few students training to replace those professionals who have fled, as university attendance has plummeted in the wake of sectarian violence that has made campuses battlegrounds. Lecturers fear their students, as too many are students by day and militants by night.

"They want a people who can't think," said Abu Mohammed (not his real name), head of Iraq's Association of University Lecturers. He ascended to the leadership of the lecturers association when his predecessor was murdered after standing up for campus neutrality. Maintaining that campuses should be free of politics and religion cost him his life in a drive-by shooting.

As we contemplate the realities of this war we have unleashed, we owe a somber moment of reflection to the consequences that have befallen real people as a result of the policies of George Bush. The decimation of the educated classes - the people who make things work - is one of the truly horrific consequences of this war, and one that will affect the country of Iraq for decades hence.