Sunday, December 17, 2006

Iraq's School System Crippled by Unending Violence


Contrary to what many Bush supporters claim, the Iraqi school system is not a testament to the success of U.S. reconstruction efforts -- quite the opposite, according to this Los Angeles Times article by Solomon Moore:

Iraq's schools, long touted by American officials as a success story in a land short on successes, increasingly are being caught in the crossfire of the country's escalating civil war.

President Bush has routinely talked about the refurbishment and construction of schools as a neglected story of progress in Iraq. The U.S. Agency for International Development has spent about $100 million on Iraq's education system and cites the rehabilitation of 2,962 school buildings as a signal accomplishment.

But today, across the country, campuses are being shuttered, students and teachers driven from their classrooms and parents left to worry that a generation of traumatized children will go without education.

Teachers tell of students kidnapped on their way to school, mortar rounds landing on or near campuses and educators shot in front of children.

This month insurgents distributed pamphlets at campuses, some sealed inside an envelope with an AK-47 bullet.

“To the Honest People of Baghdad,” one pamphlet read, “we want you to leave the schools, hospitals, institutes, colleges and universities until the illegal government of (Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri) Maliki is put down. We want your full cooperation on this.”

No credible current national school attendance statistics exist in Iraq, whose education system was once considered a model in the Arab world. But examples abound of schools being closed or left mostly empty as parents flee the country or keep their children home.

Suaad Ahmed, 35, a resident of the capital's Mansour district, ran to her son's school when she heard gunfire thundering near her house. She arrived to see rival groups of gunmen firing through the schoolyard and children screaming.

“They used the garden as a battleground,” Ahmed said. “They were hiding behind trees for protection and shooting.”

Her kindergartner and the other children were safe — this time. But the school was closed for weeks afterward.

Baghdad's schools appear to have been most affected by the violence, but campuses have also been shut down for months at a time in Anbar and Diyala provinces. On Monday, gunmen in Dujail, 40 miles north of the capital, abducted five elementary school teachers as they commuted to work. Schools there were closed indefinitely.

Via Juan Cole, who points out that the LAT piece comes on the heels of Laura Bush's slap at the media for not reporting the "good news" from Iraq. Mrs. Bush mentioned Iraq's schools as an example of this "good news":

Appearing on MSNBC this morning with Norah O’Donnell, Laura Bush blamed the media, when asked why only 21% of Americans, in a recent NBC poll, said they approved of her husband's Iraq policy.

“I do know that there are a lot of good things that are happening [in Iraq] that aren’t covered," she said. "And I think that the drum beat in the country from the media, from the only way people know what is happening unless they happen to have a loved one deployed there, is discouraging....

"There are also good things going on that people don't have a chance to see....Schools that are being built. There are parts of country that are rebuilding....So I'd like to see the media give a more balanced view of it."

Prof. Cole return-serves a slap of his own:

Laura Bush wants the 'good news' from Iraq to be reported, especially about the "schools opening." Actually, Laura, the schools in Iraq were open every day until March 19, 2003. Iraqis at one point had 95 percent literacy, before the US/UN sanctions of the 1990s. They didn't need the Bush administration to open schools for them, they needed the Americans to stop strangling them on the pretext that Saddam hadn't destroyed his WMD, which the professionals knew he had.

The Center for American Progress contrasts (see Daily Grill) Laura Bush's claim that the media overemphasizes violent incidents in Iraq with this passage from the Iraq Study Group's report:

"[T]here is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases. ... For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence."
-- Iraq Study Group report, pp. 94-95

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