updated May/09/2006

from AAAS Website



"Assassins are targeting Iraqi university professors in a coordinated, liquidation process to force well-known scholars to leave the country and thus hinder the country's reconstruction."

- Issam al-Rawi,

geologist at Baghdad University and head of the Association of University Lecturers.

"I received a threatening letter saying, 'Do not nominate yourself to the dean's post, or it will cost you your life.'"

- Iyad al-Ani,

assistant dean of Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad

"We feel there's a campaign to kill every scientist in Iraq."

- Nahi Yousif Yaseen,

director general of the Iraqi Center for Cancer and Medical Genetics Research in Baghdad


The Situation at a Glance

Since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces and the subsequent violence waged by insurgent groups, it is estimated that at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed (as of October 2004, according to a study in British medical journal The Lancet), mostly by aerial bombardment.


Scientists, medical professionals, and other academics have been killed alongside the general civilian population, however they have also been sought out specifically, due to their status or position as scientists, for intimidation and assassination. As indicated in the quotes above, the situation is extremely dire for scientists and academics remaining in Iraq.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, academics working at universities and hospitals have been specifically singled out for attack. Dr. Issam al-Rawi, geography professor, member of the Association of Muslim Scholars and chair of the Iraqi Association of University Lecturers, has reported that over 250 academics and professors have been assassinated, and many others have disappeared.


The list of those killed includes Arabs, Kurds, Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, and Christians: scientists and academics from all backgrounds.


In response to these killings and general unrest, it is estimated that an additional 1,000 scientists have fled the country.

Estimates for these numbers are coming from individual reports by colleagues of the dead/disappeared. A partial list of assassinated academics has been collected and posted at the website of the Brussels Tribunal (a Belgium-based anti-war group) by a Baghdad University professor, who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons. To date, there has been no scientific study of patterns of threats or attempt to collect data on the deaths in a methodical way.

It is unclear who is doing the killing. Some scientists believe that the majority of the killing is being carried out by the Badr Brigade, the military wing of an Iraqi Shia rebel group that has been in exile in Iran.


It is affiliated with a group known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq which worked first to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and is now focused on pushing for the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.



Level of violence

Some professors have received letters claiming to be from students, threatening death should the student not receive a certain grade. Others might claim the professor favors a particular ethnic group - Sunni or Shia. Still other academics have received anonymous messages accusing them of working with U.S. government forces and demanding they leave the country.


Mohammed Abdulazis, an English literature student and son of Saadoun Abdulazis, an assistant dean of Al-Nahrain's science faculty, was kidnapped while Saadoun was at a conference in England.


He was released after his parents paid a ransom, but was given a message to relay to his father:

"You must leave Iraq. You don't belong here. This country belongs to us."

In general, morale is low in the Iraqi scientific community. Although there has been some rebuilding, many labs have not yet recovered from the looting that went on after the fall of Saddam. Many scientists are fleeing not just because of the danger, but because they have no equipment or resources, and thus nothing to do. They see more opportunities in other countries. For example, Syria recently opened a new science and technology university last year and the teaching staff is now made up of almost 70% Iraqi exiles.

The dismal state of laboratory science compounded with the danger faced by scientists and academics in the country have additionally worried funders.


At a September 2005 meeting on science in Iraq, held in Jordan, conference co-chair Arian Pregenzer, a senior scientist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico said,

"I sometimes question the ethics of what we're doing."

Any grants for work in Iraq

"are keeping scientists in a war zone," she says. "It's a terrible dilemma."

In a recent UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization press release, UNESCO's director-general, Ko´chiro Matsuura said,

"By targeting those who hold the keys of Iraq's reconstruction and development, the perpetrators of this violence are jeopardizing the future of Iraq and of democracy."

This crisis clearly has grave implications for the stability in Iraq, as well as that of surrounding regions. It is vitally important that the international scientific community takes up the cause of their colleagues in Iraq.



Actions to Take


Scientists Under Attack

Rebuilding Scientific Infrastructure


Return to The Killing of Science

Return to The Middle East Exopolitical Saga