Opening the Doors: Intellectual Life and Academic Conditions in Post-War Baghdad

National Lib

A report of the Iraqi Observatory
Keith Watenpaugh - Edouard Méténier - Jens Hanssen - Hala Fattah

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Word began to trickle out of Baghdad in mid-April 2003 that the Iraqi National Library and Archives and the library of the Ministry of Holy Endowments and Religious Affairs (al-Awqaf) had been burned and looted during the paroxysm of aggravated mayhem that followed the collapse of the Baathist regime. Soon, it became clear that in addition to the damage to those libraries, universities, research centers and private institutions had also been harmed or destroyed, and that additional elements of Iraq's rich cultural heritage in the form of historic buildings, musical archives and contemporary art were at risk. These were moments of deep and profound sadness that ultimately gave way to conversations about ways to work to rebuild and restore what had been lost. The several H-Net Middle East Networks like H-Levant, H-Turk, H-Islamart, as well as H-Museum provided the primary venue for these conversations. Information, critical writing, and planning all took place in the context of the H-Net community.

As these conversations continued, several of us - primarily a group of historians of the contemporary Middle East from Germany, France, Jordan and the US - decided to travel to Baghdad to catalog the extent of the damage to institutions of higher learning and cultural production. We also intended to record the needs of Iraq's academic and intellectual community as it rebuilds itself in the face of a generation of brutish rule by Saddam Hussein, a decade of debilitating U.N. sanctions, a brief and humiliating war, and an open-ended American-led military occupation.

Opening the Doors is the report of our findings following a 9-day visit to Baghdad (22-30 June 2003), perhaps the most violent week in terms of Iraqi and coalition casualties since the "end" of the war on May 1. It is the first comprehensive independent assessment of academic conditions and intellectual life in postwar Baghdad.

This report is built on three themes: A description of the current material and organizational condition of Iraq's intellectual and academic community; An assessment of the prevailing conditions of Iraqi cultural and intellectual life; A characterization of the ongoing relationships between the Iraqi academic and intellectual community and the occupation forces/structures of governance.

Each section or sub-section ends with is a series of suggestions based on our observations and tempered by our experience as university professionals and years of living and conducting research in several Middle Eastern countries.

We intend this report for the international academic community writ large. We hope it can be used as a starting point for policy discussions at colleges, universities, and professional organizations worldwide - especially as American universities begin to vie for multi-million dollar USAID reconstruction grants. We also encourage those working to establish academic exchange programs or those looking to offer their expertise in fields as diverse as book preservation to university management to see it as a resource and a guide.

We conceived this work in the spirit of complete transparency and collegial discourse. It includes judgments and assessments that may not be shared by all members of the group, but rather represent a consensus opinion. Our conclusions are based on a rapid assessment of the situation, often less than forthcoming answers from CPA officials and occasional obfuscation by Iraqi bureaucrats, and thus, may not be complete. The report should be seen as a beginning and a road map for later groups.

Subsequent to the publication of this report - still a work in progress - members of the group will be adding detailed appendices, corrections, maps, digital video clips and updates. Hypertext links to relevant reports and documents appear as entries at the end of chapters.

Click here to read the full report.
You'll need Adobe's free Acrobat Reader to read this report.

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Also see the following lists for relevant discussions...

  • H-Levant
  • H-Mideast-Politics
  • H-Islamart
  • H-Turk
  • H-Museum

    Keith Watenpaugh
    Department of History
    Le Moyne College
    Syracuse, New York USA