Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at d.butler@nature.com

July 20, 2006

Academics targetted in Iraq

Filed under: Justice — admin @ 8:44 pm

Following a recent news special I wrote on academics being targetted for assassination in Iraq, the International Council for Science (ICSU) has contacted me to let me know that they have issued a statement in response; I hear Pugwash are also looking at the issue.
The 2-page news special on Iraq is here.

Some excerpts:

A chemist’s mutilated body dumped on a street in Basra; a physicist shot twice in the back in Baghdad; a dean of engineering kidnapped by a hit squad, his body left on his wife’s doorstep. Each week brings reports from Iraq of assassinations or kidnappings of scientists, academics and intellectuals, in what many argue is a systematic effort to eliminate or exile a group crucial to the country’s reconstruction.

One of the first academics murdered was Muhammad al-Rawi, president of Baghdad University, assassinated in his clinic by a hit squad on 27 July 2003. In the chaos of Iraq, precise body counts are impossible, but observers have recorded several hundred assassinations of academics, with the rate of killings increasing over the past 18 months. More than 2,000 scientists are thought to have fled abroad.

There follows a long analysis of the various motives, and some harrowing personal accounts of the fate of some of the victims:

At the American Association of Petroleum Geologists annual meeting in Paris in September last year, renowned Iraqi geologist Wissam Al-Hashimi was due to give a paper on carbonate reservoirs in Mesopotamia. His slot was filled instead with a memorial service, recalls Muhammad Ibrahim, a geologist with Target Exploration in London.

Al-Hashimi, an expert in the porosity of dolomite, was kidnapped on 24 August 2005; his car was intercepted on his way to work in Baghdad. Ibrahim, who grew up with him and is a friend of the family, says they paid a ransom. But Al-Hasimi’s daughter found his body two weeks later in a Baghdad hospital, shot twice in the head. “She went from mortuary to mortuary looking every day,” says Ibrahim. “His eyes had been pulled out during torture. I didn’t know human beings could go so low.”

I think my article speaks for itself, so I’ll not comment further here. The text of the ICSU statement is below.

“Updated on 13/07/06
ICSU Condemns Violence against Scientists in Iraq

In the light of a number of recent incidents and press reports , the International Council for Science (ICSU) expresses its solidarity with the Iraqi scientific community. ICSU unreservedly opposes any discrimination against scientists or in the conduct of science. This is encapsulated in the Principle of the Universality of Science – science should be equitable and without discrimination (ICSU Statute 5) – which is embraced by the global community of scientists.

The recent reports of events in Iraq indicate that the academic and scientific communities are being specifically targeted for violence. It is clear that many scientists have been ruthlessly tortured and killed. These include Professor Wissam Al-Hashimi, a former vice-President of the International Union of Geological Sciences, who was very active and popular within the international science community. In August 2005, he was intercepted on his way to work, tortured and shot twice in the head. His murder, and that of other scientists, is not only a personal tragedy but also a senseless loss to a national community that will one day soon have to turn its mind to re-building after the ravages of war.

Many brave scientists continue to work within Iraq or collaborate with their former colleagues from positions of exile. Other members of the international science community are doing what they can to assist. Science is a global enterprise and its values and principles are what holds it together, particularly in times of hardship. When these principles are undermined and scientists are discriminated against it is the global scientific enterprise and society as a whole that suffers.

ICSU unequivocally opposes any discrimination against Iraqi scientists, whether that be for political, religious or any other reason, and calls on all relevant authorities to ensure that Iraqi scientists are properly respected and protected. ”

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