More than 100 school students and dozens of university students and academics were killed in 2009-2012, and there were numerous direct attacks on schools. The targeting of students, teachers and academics continued in 2013 with shootings and bombings.
Sectarian fighting put significant pressure on Iraq’s education system in the years following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Hundreds of academics were assassinated844 and the Ministry of Education recorded 31,600 attacks against universities and schools.845
After Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled, Iraq eventually fractured along sectarian lines as pro-Baathist forces and Islamist insurgents fought the US-led occupying forces and Sunnis and Shias fought each other. The levels of violence fell significantly by 2009 as a result of three main factors: US funding for militia comprised of Sunni tribesmen who had previously fought the US and Iraqi forces,846 a surge by US troops that pushed Islamist militants out of contested cities and provinces, and a Shia ceasefire.847 American combat forces withdrew from the country during 2011. However, education continued to be affected by violence and sectarian divisions.
Bombings remained commonplace, particularly in central Iraq, and armed groups, including Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), continued to carry out acts of violence targeting academics, security forces and government buildings.848 Violence also escalated in 2013 between Shias and Sunnis, partly provoked by the Shia-led government’s perceived marginalization of Sunnis, but also due to the growing strength of Al-Qaeda and other factors.849
In addition to the direct violence against education institutions and targeted killings of university staff, sectarian divisions shaped the higher education sector, putting pressure on students and faculty of opposing groups.850 Different sects controlled different Iraqi cities including the universities located in them.851 There were also claims that control over particular universities was increasingly being handed to political parties. For instance, it was reported that Baghdad University had been ‘allocated’ to the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq, Al-Mustansiriya University to the Sadr Group, and Al-Nahrain University to the Al-Dawa Party.852 These groups interfered in many aspects of university life, including admissions, hiring, course content and physical security on campus.853 After the appointment in 2011 of a leading member of the pro-Shiite Islamic Dawa party, Ali al-Adeeb, as Minister of Higher Education, the education ministry fired large numbers of former Baathists from university faculties.854 Subsequently, complaints of sectarian bias in appointments were presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council.855
In addition, insurgent groups demanded changes to the curriculum or tried to deny access to education to students from targeted groups and often responded with violence when their demands were not met.856
Net primary enrolment in Iraq was 89 per cent (2007),857 net secondary enrolment was 44 per cent (2007)858 and gross tertiary enrolment was 16 per cent (2005).859 The adult literacy rate was 79 per cent (2011).860
Attacks on schools
There were 56 documented attacks on school buildings during 2009-2012. Five attacks on school buildings or facilities were documented in 2009, seven in 2010, 29 in 2011 and at least 15 in 2012.861 Methods of attack included suicide bombings, use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mortar attacks and gunfire.862 For example, on 24 September 2012 – the second day of the new school year – a suicide bomber drove his car laden with explosives into Al-Kifah primary school in Anbar province, killing five children and injuring six others. The blast caused severe damage to the school building.863
In addition, IEDs planted in the vicinity of schools impinged on access to school services: 54 incidents of IEDs affecting schools were reported in 2011 alone.864 In some incidents, the detonation of bombs outside schools was linked to intentional efforts to damage them. For example, on 1 March 2012, an IED exploded in front of a secondary school in Kirkuk and a police search revealed a second bomb in the school.865 In other cases, IEDs were planted to attack passing military targets but also put students and teachers at risk. For example, an explosive charge hidden in a rubbish bin went off near a primary school in the Al-Rashidiyah neighbourhood of northern Mosul on 25 March 2009, missing its passing US patrol target and instead killing four schoolchildren and injuring seven more as they were leaving the school to go home.866
Militia groups also stored explosives at schools. Six schoolchildren were killed and 28 students and teachers wounded at the Abaa Dhar primary school for boys in 2009 when a cache of explosives hidden underneath the school’s rubbish dump, allegedly by militia groups, was accidentally detonated by the head teacher while he was burning refuse.867
Armed groups threatened several girls’ primary schools on different occasions by planting IEDs on the premises, attacking the schools at night and leaving threatening messages. In some incidents, schools or students were targeted because of the ethnicity or religious affiliation of the majority of the students, particularly in areas such as Kirkuk, Salahaddin and Baghdad.868
Attacks on school students, teachers and other education personnel
During 2009-2012, some 106 school students were killed, 200 injured and 22 abducted; however, the number of attacks on education was greatly reduced compared to earlier years.869
Sectarian groups attacked students and teachers, in many cases apparently due to their status as students or teachers.
Although a UN respondent reported no school student or teacher victims in 2009,870 there was one media report of three female students wounded in an armed attack in western Mosul, on 25 May 2009, when an unknown gunman opened fire on them as they left their school in the Tamouz neighbourhood.871
According to a UN respondent, in 2010, 49 school students were killed, 26 injured and five abducted in attacks on education.872 The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) separately reported that more than 10 school teachers and university professors were assassinated in 2010 in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, Al Kut (Wassit governorate), Al Anbar and Diyala, although it did not indicate how many of the ten were teachers. The motives for many of the killings were not known.873
In 2011, 37 students were killed, 33 students injured, and 13 students abducted, according to a UN respondent.874 Twenty-seven school personnel or education officials were killed or injured in incidents that included IEDs and direct shooting, mostly in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Ninewa, Salahaddin and Anbar. In all these cases, armed groups, including Al-Qaeda in Iraq and ISI, were responsible.875 For instance, on 11 December 2011, a bomb attached to a car carrying a Ministry of Education official in Baghdad’s northern Shaab district exploded, killing him.876 The same day, a bomb attached to a teacher’s car injured him when it detonated in the town of Muqdadiya.877
In 2012, 69 students were killed, 167 injured and four abducted, according to a UN respondent.878 For example, in Salahaddin governorate, two secondary school students were killed and another wounded when five masked armed attackers entered the school, made their way to a specific classroom and shot at the students on 22 April 2012. The UN reported that according to local sources, including local police, AQI was allegedly behind the attack, some mentioning that AQI had attempted to recruit the victims before the incident.879 The UN also reported that 19 school-level education staff were killed or injured in 2012.880 On 12 March 2012, a teacher from the Riyadh district, south of Kirkuk, died when a bomb attached to his car exploded.881
Roadside bombs along school routes also killed or wounded a number of students and teachers, although they were not necessarily targeting education. In one incident, Baghdad high school students travelling by bus from Sadr City to sit their final examinations were caught in a roadside bomb explosion in June 2009. Police said that three pupils were killed and 13 people wounded, although the US army said there was one dead and eight injured.882 On 10 January 2012, three boys were killed by a roadside bomb while leaving their school in Yathrib, near Balad.883
Throughout 2009-2012, there were also several instances of arrest or harassment of students, teachers and teacher trade unionists. Ibrahim al-Battat, a leader of the Iraqi Teachers’ Union, was arrested and then released on 22 February 2010 after an eight-day detention for his involvement in strikes and his refusal to divulge union members’ names.884 On 26 February 2010, a warrant was also issued for Jasim Hussein Mohammed, the national leader of the Iraqi Teachers’ Union (ITU), who was subsequently arrested and released.885
Attacks on higher education
Almost 500 Iraqi academics886 were killed in the nine years from the fall of Saddam Hussein to April 2012, but the vast majority of assassinations occurred before 2009. Since then, attacks on higher education have continued at a much lower rate, with 26 killings recorded by media and human rights groups from 2009 to 2012. In two cases in 2010, professors who had recently returned to Iraq from exile were killed, contradicting the higher education ministry’s claims that it was safe for academics to come back.887 UNAMI reported the separate killings of six academics and the combined kidnapping of two professors in 2011.888 The majority of those killed were shot or targeted by explosions caused by magnetic or ‘sticky’ bombs, often placed under vehicles, or other devices planted near the victims’ homes. However, at least one professor was stabbed to death and another was hanged after unidentified attackers stormed his house.889 In another incident in July 2011, the Director-General of Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Dawood Salman Rahim, was reportedly assassinated, along with his son, in their car in west Baghdad’s Ghazaliya district by a group of unknown armed men.890
A compilation of media and human rights reports suggests that as many as 20 higher education students may have been killed and 115 injured between 2009 and 2011. Of those killed, most were reported to have been shot, many in drive-by shootings in which the perpetrators and motives were not known.891
In 2010, at least 100 students were injured when a convoy of buses, escorted by Iraqi forces and transporting college students from Christian towns and villages in the Nineveh Plain back to classes at the University of Mosul, was attacked.892 A car bomb exploded as the first buses crossed a checkpoint along the internal border between the semi-autonomous Kurdish region and the rest of the country. Shortly afterwards, another roadside bomb went off.893 The area around Mosul University had already experienced several attacks and threats of attacks in 2009, which is why students travelled in these types of convoys.894 The attacks on Christian students were part of a spate of dozens of attacks against Christians in Iraq in 2010.895 According to Worldwatch Monitor, nearly 1,000 students stayed away from class for the rest of the semester as a result of the convoy attack.896
Students in Kirkuk and the northern city of Mosul were repeatedly targeted.897 In another incident on 11 August 2011, five Shiite university students were shot dead by a drive-by assassin on a motorcycle while they were swimming.898 On 6 June 2012, another student was killed by a magnetic bomb attached to a vehicle.899
Attacks on education in 2013
School drop-out rates in 2013 were the lowest for a decade, which the education minister said resulted from better security, removal of armed groups, rebuilding of schools and increased recognition of the value of education.900 However, there was an upturn in the level of general violence in 2013,901 approaching the levels of 2008, and there were numerous reports of attacks on education, including against school students,902 tertiary-level students,903 teachers,904 academics905 and education ministry officials.906 There were multiple accounts of teachers being targeted individually and some reports of large numbers of students being killed. For example, on 6 October 2013, a suicide bomber drove a truck full of explosives into the wall of a primary school playground in Tel Afar, north-west of Mosul, and detonated them, killing at least 12 pupils and their head teacher.907
Attacks on higher education institutions and students and academics continued. In January, Dr Abbas Fadhil Al-Dulaimy, the President of Diyala University, survived an assassination attempt in which his convoy was hit by the detonation of a roadside bomb, which killed two of his bodyguards.908 Tikrit University was repeatedly targeted. In March, a bomb went off on its campus, injuring five students.909 In June, a suicide bomber attacked the campus, killing a police officer.910 Four university staff members were also reportedly killed in a bomb attack in March north of Tikrit, but it is not clear whether they were targeted as university staff members.911 In the most serious incident affecting students, two suicide bombers blew themselves up inside and outside Habib al-Asadi Shiite mosque in Baghdad in June 2013, killing 34 people and injuring 57 others. Most victims were students from the nearby Imam Al-Sadiq University for Islamic Studies who regularly attended the mosque for midday prayers, although it is not known if they were being targeted.912
844 Brendan O’Malley, Education under Attack 2010 (Paris: UNESCO, 2010).
845 Brendan O’Malley, “Iraq: Killing Academics Is A War Crime,” University World News, 9 November 2008.
846 “Q&A: Iraq’s Awakening Councils,” BBC News, 18 July 2010.
847 “Sadr Declares New Iraq Ceasefire,” BBC News, 22 February 2008.
848 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, para 42.
849 “Iraq Violence: May Was Deadliest Month for Years – UN,” BBC News, 1 June 2012; and “Analysis: failing to address the root causes of violence in Iraq,” IRIN, 20 September 2013.
850 GCPEA, Institutional Autonomy and the Protection of Higher Education from Attack: A Research Study of the Higher Education Working Group of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (New York: GCPEA, 2013), 21.
851 Ibid.; and Wagdy Sawahel, “Claims of Sectarian Discrimination in Higher Education Surface,” University World News, Issue No: 223, 27 May 2012.
852 Wagdy Sawahel, “Claims of Sectarian Discrimination in Higher Education Surface,” University World News, Issue No: 223, 27 May 2012; and Ursula Lindsey, “Iraqi Universities Reach a Crossroads,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 25 March 2012.
853 Wagdy Sawahel, “Claims of Sectarian Discrimination in Higher Education Surface,” University World News, Issue No: 223, 27 May 2012.
854 Ursula Lindsey, “Iraqi Universities Reach a Crossroads,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 25 March 2012.
855 Wagdy Sawahel, “Claims of Sectarian Discrimination in Higher Education Surface,” University World News, Issue No: 223, 27 May 2012.
856 UNAMI Human Rights Office and OHCHR, 2010 Report on Human Rights in Iraq (Baghdad: UNAMI and OHCHR, January 2011), 38.
857 The World Bank, “School enrollment – primary (% net),” The World Bank Data (2007).
858 The World Bank, “School enrollment – secondary (% net),” The World Bank Data (2007).
859 The World Bank, “School enrollment – tertiary (% gross),” The World Bank Data (2005).
860 UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “Education (all levels) Profile - Iraq,” UIS Statistics in Brief (2011).
861 Information provided by a UN respondent, 18 December 2012.
863 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/67/845–S/2013/245, 15 May 2013, para 72; and “At Least 3 Killed in Suicide Car Bombing at Primary School in Western Iraq,” Global Times News, 24 September 2012.
864 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, para 48.
865 UNAMI Human Rights Office and OHCHR, 2012 Report on Human Rights in Iraq (Baghdad: UNAMI and OHCHR, October 2012), 17.
866 Xiong Tong, “Four School Children Killed in Bomb Attack in Iraq’s Mosul, Á Xinhuanet News, 25 March 2009.
867 “Six Schoolchildren among 16 Dead in Iraq,” The Nation, 8 December 2009.
868 Information provided by a UN respondent, 18 December 2012.
869 Education-related killings were much higher in 2005, 2006 and 2007. See Brendan O’Malley, Education under Attack (Paris: UNESCO, 2007), 8, 17-18. Figures for 2009-2012 provided by a UN respondent, 18 December 2012.
870 Information provided by a UN respondent, 18 December 2012.
871 “Gunman Wounds 3 Female Students in Mosul,” Iraqi News, 25 May 2009.
872 Information provided by a UN respondent, 18 December 2012.
873 UNAMI Human Rights Office and OHCHR, 2010 Report on Human Rights in Iraq (Baghdad: UNAMI and OHCHR, January 2011), 9.
874 Information provided by a UN respondent, 18 December 2012.
875 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, para 48.
876 “Security Developments in Iraq,” Thomson Reuters, 11 December 2011.
878 Information provided by a UN respondent, 18 December 2012.
879 Ibid; and UNAMI Human Rights Office and OHCHR, 2012 Report on Human Rights in Iraq (Baghdad: UNAMI and OHCHR, October 2012), 17.
880 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/67/845–S/2013/245, 15 May 2013, para 72.
881 Iraq Body Count (IBC), “Teacher by Bomb Attached to Car in South Kirkuk,” 12 March 2012.
882 SOS Children’s Villages, “Iraqi Schoolchildren Killed by Bomb on Way to Exams,” 23 June 2009.
883 IBC, “Three Boys by Roadside Bomb When Leaving School in Yathrib, Near Balad,” 10 January 2012.
884 Education International, “Iraq: EI Protests against the Continued Harassment of Union Leaders,” 26 February 2010.
886 Lucy Hodges, “Iraq’s universities are in meltdown,” The Independent, 7 December 2006; Francis Beckett, “Professors in Penury,” The Guardian, 12 December 2006; and Matthew Schweitzer, “Iraq’s Intellectual Tragedy,” Heptagon Post, 16 August 2012.
887 “Iraqi Academics Under Attack, Two Iraqi Academics Killed After Their Returning to Iraq,” CEOSI, 27 October 2010.
888 UNAMI Human Rights Office and OHCHR, 2011 Report on Human Rights in Iraq (Baghdad: UNAMI and OCHCR, May 2012), 6-7.
889 Caroline Stauffer, “Iraqis in Exile: Saving a Generation of Scholars,” SIPA News, June 2010, 11; and “FACT BOX: Security developments in Iraq, Feb 17,” Reuters, 17 February 2011.
890 “Urgent: Iraq’s Higher Education DG, His Son, Killed in West Baghdad,” Aswat al-Iraq, 31 July 2011.
891 International News Safety Institute (INSI), “Six Killed in Baghdad Bombings,”22 June 2009; “Gunmen Kill 2 College Students in N Iraq,” People’s Daily Online, 27 April 2010; UNAMI Human Rights Office and OHCHR, 2010 Report on Human Rights in Iraq (Baghdad: UNAMI and OHCHR, January 2011), 41; Sam Dagher, “Bombs Hit School Buses in north Iraq,” New York Times, 2 May 2010; “Mosul Blast Casualties up to 95,” Aswat al-Iraq, 2 May 2010; “Bomb Attack Seriously Injures Christian Students,” World Watch Monitor, 5 May 2012; Ethan Cole, “Christian Student Killed in Iraq; Fourth Murder in Days,” The Christian Post, 18 February 2010; Namo Adbulla, “Who Killed Zardasht Osman?” New York Times, “At War” blog, 6 October 2010; “Security Developments in Iraq,” Thomson Reuters, 6 March 2011; “Security Developments in Iraq,” Thomson Reuters, 31 March 2011; “Security Developments in Iraq,” Thomson Reuters, 26 July 2011;IBC, “University Academic and Student Sister Shot Dead in al-Hadba, North Mosul,” 13 March 2012; IBC, “University Student in Knife Attack in South Kut,” 4 April 2012; IBC, “Mosul University Student shot dead from car in central Kirkuk,”22 April 2012; IBC, “Student by Bomb Attached to Vehicle in Hawija,” 6 June2012; IBC, “University Student Shot Dead in al-Majmooah al-Thaqafiya, East Mosul,” 21 June 2012; IBC, “6-7 Shiite University Students Shot Dead from Motorcycles, While Swimming Newar Amerli,” 11 August 2012.
892 UNAMI Human Rights Office and OHCHR, 2010 Report on Human Rights in Iraq (Baghdad: UNAMI and OHCHR, January 2011), 41.
893 Sam Dagher, “Bombs Hit School Buses in North Iraq,” New York Times, 2 May 2010.
894 UNAMI Human Rights Office and OHCHR, 2010 Report on Human Rights in Iraq (Baghdad: UNAMI and OHCHR, January 2011), 41.
896 Worldwatch Monitor, “Bomb attack seriously injures Christian students,” 5 May 2010.
897 School Safety Partners, “Two University Students Killed, One Injured in Iraq Shooting,” 27 April 2010.
898 IBC, “6-7 Shiite University Students Shot Dead from Motorcycles, While Swimming Near Amerli,” 11 August 2012.
899 IBC, “Student by Bomb Attached to Vehicle in Hawija,” 6 June 2012.
900 “Iraq hails lower school dropout rates,” Al-Shorfa, 3 October 2013.
901 “Iraq violence: Baghdad hit by series of deadly blasts,” BBC News, 7 October 2013.
902 “Iraq violence: Bomber hit primary school,” BBC News, 6 October 2013; and “Bomber kills 15 in attack on school in Iraq,” Reuters, 6 October 2013.
903 IBC/NINA/VOI, “Christian medical student, by car bomb near Alaalamiya Mallin Al-Muhandiseen, east Mosul,” 8 January 2013; “7 killed, 27 injured in separate attacks in Iraq,” Xinhua, 28 September 2013; Ahmed Ali, “Iraq’s sectarian crisis reignites as Shi’ia militias execute civilians and remobilize,” 1 June 2013; and “Iraqi suicide bombers hit Baghdad mosque, kill 34,” AP, 18 June 2013.
904 IBC/AP/AFP, “Secondary school teacher by magnetic bomb on highway near protest area, near Ramadi,” 17 April 2013; “Iraq violence: Bomber hit primary school,” BBC News, 6 October 2013; “Iraq bomb attacks, shootings kill 14 in day of violence,” ABC, 29 September 2013; “7 killed, 27 injured in separate attacks in Iraq,” Xinhua, 28 September 2013; Ahmed Ali, “Iraq’s sectarian crisis reignites as Shi’ia militias execute civilians and remobilize,” 1 June 2013; and “Incident report, Iraq,” updated 26 May 2013, Shield Consulting Co Ltd.
905 IBC/AIN/Al-Forat, “Policeman and 4 university teachers by car bomb in Ameen Square, Baiji, north of Tikrit,” 19 March 2013; “Iraq: UN educational agency condemns killing of Baghdad university professor,” UN News Centre, 3 July 2013; Saif Ahmed, “Falluja professor’s assassination draws shock and sorrow,” 10 May 2013; and SAR, Academic Freedom Monitor, 10 January 2013.
906 IBC/XIN, “Iraqi Education Ministry employee by gunfire while driving in Al-Qanat Street, east Baghdad,” 26 February 2013.
907 “Bomber kills 15 in attack on school in Iraq,” Reuters, 6 October 2013; “Iraq violence: Bomber hit primary school,” BBC News, 6 October 2013.
908 SAR, Academic Freedom Monitor, 10 January 2013.
909 Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, “Iraq news summary, 26 March 2013.”
910 Sameer Yacoub, “Series of bomb attacks in Iraq kill at least 42,” AP, 24 June 2013.
911 IBC/AIN/Al-Forat, “Policeman and 4 university teachers by car bomb in Ameen Square, Baiji, north of Tikrit,” 19 March 2013.
912 “Iraqi suicide bombers hit Baghdad mosque, kill 34,” AP, 18 June 2013.