Iraq had the best university system in the middle east until the 1990s.Iraqi universities went into decline in the 12 years following the Gulf War, and some hoped that the American invasion in 2003 would revive the universities, helping create space for open and critical dialogue. However, the opposite happened, notes Hugh Gusterson in this article, An education in occupation.
Control over Iraq’s universities now lay in the hands of Andrew Erdmann, a 36-year-old American, well-connected in Republican Party patronage networks, who was senior adviser to Iraq’s Ministry of Education. Erdmann spoke no Arabic and had no experience in university administration.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) did set aside $25 million to help revitalize Iraqi universities — but the money went to American universities to do curriculum development. For example, USAID gave the State University of New York at Stony Brook $4 million (half the amount Congress appropriated to restore the entire Iraqi university system) to develop a new archaeology curriculum on behalf of four Iraqi universities.
Those faculty fortunate enough to move abroad became part of the great middle-class exodus from Iraq under US occupation. It is estimated that 10 percent of Iraq’s population, and 30 percent of its professors, doctors, and engineers, left for neighboring countries between 2003 and 2007 — the largest Arab refugee displacement since the Palestinian flight from the holy lands decades earlier.
In just 20 years, then, the Iraqi university system went from being among the best in the Middle East to one of the worst. This extraordinary act of institutional destruction was largely accomplished by American leaders who told us that the US invasion of Iraq would bring modernity, development, and women’s rights. Instead, as political scientist Mark Duffield has observed, it has partly de-modernized that country.