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Mahdi Army, Not U.S. Forces, Now The Real Power In Iraq

Iraqi Higher Education Minister Abed Theyab on Tuesday ordered the closure of all universities in the capital until the government could ensure a safe and secure environment for lecturers and students. This followed the kidnapping on the same day of up to 150 staff and visitors in one of the ministry's institutions in central Baghdad.

"I have only one choice, which is to suspend classes at universities. We have no other choice. I'm not ready to see more professors killed," Theyab told parliament. "Over and over, I had asked the government, defense and interior ministries to offer security for the ministry's institutions, but received nothing."

In what was seen as the largest mass abduction since the beginning of the U.S. occupation in 2003, about 80 gunmen dressed as police commandos broke into the Ministry of Higher Education's scientific research directorate in the downtown Karradah district of Baghdad.

The institute is responsible for granting scholarships to Iraqi professors and students wishing to study abroad.

"It was a quick operation. It took about 10 to 15 minutes," Theyab said. "It is a four-story building and the gunmen went to each story." He added that the gunmen had at least 30 vehicles waiting outside.

Shiite militias and other illegal groups are known to wear stolen or fake police and army uniforms but it was not certain which group was responsible for this incident.

Analysts speculated that mass kidnappings of this nature could only be carried out by the Shiite Muslim-dominated security forces or at least with their involvement. Senior police officers from Karrada are already under investigation.

"This will never prevent us from continuing our studies," Said Ali al-Salihi, a 21-year-old student at the College of Sciences in al-Mustansiriyah University. "The terrorists want an Iraq of uneducated people, an Iraq of criminals, but it is they who will give up, not us," al-Salihi added.

But Eman Ali, a 20-year-old student at the College of Fine Arts in the University of Baghdad, has decided it is too dangerous to go to her classes.

"Enough... we had enough, there is no meaning behind being killed like this," Eman said. "I will manage by studying at home."

This latest attack has come amid systematic killings aimed at Iraq's academic community. This has prompted thousands of professors and researchers to flee to neighboring countries.

A university dean, a geologist and a university professor were murdered over the past three weeks in Baghdad by unidentified gunmen, bringing the death toll among educators to at least 160 since 2003, according to a statement on the education ministry's website.

© IRIN   [Integrated Regional Information Networks is a project the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

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Albion Monitor   November 14, 2006   (

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