A Picture of Iraqi School Life

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Today’s Washington Post features a riveting article on a subject little-broached in the American media—namely, the everyday lives of Iraqis, in this case Iraqi university students. The picture is not a pretty one:

The letter was slipped under the dean’s office door, in an envelope slightly bulging from the AK-47 bullet tucked inside.

“You have to understand our circumstances. We cannot perform well on the exam because of the problems in Baghdad. And you have to help,” the letter began, said its recipient, A.M. Taleb, dean of the College of Sciences at Baghdad University. “If you do not, you and your family will be killed.”

It’s finals time in Iraq. Black-clad gunmen have stormed a dormitory to snatch students from their rooms. Professors fear failing and angering their pupils. Administrators curtailed graduation ceremonies to avoid convening large groups of people into an obvious bombing target. Perhaps nowhere else does the prospect of two months’ summer vacation — for those who can afford it, a chance to flee the country — bring such unbridled relief.

The article reports that female students at the university have been targets of intimidation, forced to dress and act more conservatively lest they come under attack by the religious extremists increasingly prevalent on the campus. It’s not news that Iraqi women have suffered disproportionately from the violence engulfing their country. A report published by Human Rights Watch last October declared, “The violence and lack of security has had a major impact on Iraqi women, who once enjoyed a public role in the country’s social and political life.” Meanwhile, allegations of the abuse of Iraqi women by American soldiers had surfaced long before the recent investigation into an alleged rape and murder in Mahmudiya.

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