Iraqi scientists and doctors are increasingly expressing alarm about threats to their lives as the numbers targeted in killings rise while a weak government seems unable to provide adequate security.
The latest victim in the spree of apparently targeted killings was Zaid Abdul Mun’im, head of research of the molecular department at al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. He died after a bomb went off in his car on April 3.
Prior to his death, Mohammed Alwan, a prominent Baghdadi surgeon and the dean of the faculty of medicine of the same university, was assassinated on March 29.
Neither of the men had any known political affiliations.
“A government that cannot protect its people, does not deserve to be a government,” said Hikmat Jamil, head of the self-funded group International Society of Iraqi Scientists, and a professor of medicine at the Wayne State University in Michigan.
“We have sent letters to al-Mustansiriya University and the government condemning the assassination of Dr. Mun’im,” he told alarabiya.net.
The British newspaper The Independent placed the death toll of Iraqi academics at more than 470 by the end of 2006.
Reports from the Iraqi Physicians Union said that more than 500 of Iraq’s leading medical professionals have been assassinated and more than 7,000 have been forced to leave the country after receiving death threats.
Analysts have offered many theories as to why physicians and academics have been targeted, but nothing has been substantiated. Some point the finger at Israeli intelligence services. Others believe the U.S. is aware of the planned killings and silently endorses them.
“The [incidents of targeted killings] seem to be continuing since 2003, and I don’t think it will stop in the near future,” said Iyad al-Zamily, founder and editor-in-chief of the Iraqi cultural website, Kitabat.com, based in Germany.
“Some of the academics were forced to seek protection by militias and political parties and to change their political views to blend in, since the government is not capable of protecting them,” he added.
Mr. al-Zamily said he believes there are solutions to combat these target killings, but they get lost amid the political divisiveness which ends up exacerbating security problems.
While the Iraqi parliament is mulling laws to protect Iraqi physicians, them carrying a weapon being the latest, al-Zamily said “all Iraqis are entitled to protection, as everyone is [a target].”
Adil E. Shamoo, an Iraqi-American who is a senior analyst for the think tank Foreign Policy In Focus in Washington and author of Who Assassinated Iraqi Academics? said: “The evidence so far is sufficient to warrant a thorough investigation by an independent body. Iraqis, Americans, and the world need to know the truth.”
The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council has called on the Obama Administration to “open a serious and transparent investigation” into possible “crimes against humanity.”
Before the 2003 toppling of its then-president Saddam Hussein, Iraq was known for its healthcare. Technologically, its facilities were more advanced than most other Middle East countries. Prior to the U.S.-led invasion, students in the region flocked to Baghdad’s universities and other educational institutions.
(Dina Al Shibeeb of Al Arabiya, can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org)