The Corner

Kurdistan Correction

Last week, I posted about the problem of political interference in Iraqi Kurdish universities. This is an old problem, going back at least a decade, when my direct experience with Iraqi Kurdish universities began.

Too many Iraqi Kurdish universities exist as much for political patronage as for education.  Because each party sponsors its own universities — not to be outdone by its rivals — resources are spread thin and the quality of education suffers. On top of this, many senior Kurdish academics either studied in the East Bloc or fear younger scholars with Western experience outshining them. Political leaders, unwilling to make enemies of the professors or their extended families, respond by sponsoring new universities. The KDP, for example, founded the University of Kurdistan in Hawler (the Kurdish word for Erbil) because then-Kurdish prime minister Nechirvan Barzani did not feasible politically to reform Salahuddin University in the same city.

Current prime minister Barham Salih, a lame duck because of the collapse of his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, recognized the problem and sought to start over, building the American University of Iraq in his hometown of Sulaimani.

The University of Kurdistan has suffered because of political shenanigans, but two of my statements were inaccurate in my post: Daniel Wolk was not frogmarched on to a plane, although he was escorted by a security agent and both were driven by his lawyer after his expulsion had been ordered. And the meeting with Prime Minister Barham Salih’s chief-of-staff occurred a month before the termination.

Still, my concern remains, especially when it comes to the possibility that the political stasis in Kurdish political culture — especially the prioritization of patronage over progress — could impact the American University of Iraq, which, more than other American Universities in Cairo, Beirut, or elsewhere, has brought politicians — some of whom have a record of abuse — into university governance. Iraq can corrupt. If the American University of Iraq is going to avoid that, it is imperative that currently serving politicians recuse themselves from university governance.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

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