Thursday, January 04, 2007

AU Kurdistan


As much as I hate to sound like Thomas Friedman—not that I dislike him or his writing, it’s just that some days he’s seemingly everywhere—if you build stability, they will come.

In this case, what would come is an American University in Iraq, modeled on similar institutions in Cairo and Beirut. But as “An American University for Iraq but Not in Baghdad” shows, support for an American-style institution of higher learning in Iraq flows in direct proportion to distance from the capital’s chaos:

Their planned American University of Iraq is modeled after the famous private universities in Cairo and Beirut. The project’s managers have a board of trustees; a business plan recently completed by McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm; three candidates for university president; and $25 million, much of it in pledges from the American government and Kurdish sources. To fulfill their dream, they need much more: $200 million to $250 million over 15 years, said Azzam Alwash, the board’s executive secretary.

But if it does become a reality, the university will not be built in Baghdad, which for centuries was a beacon of learning in the Arab world.

Instead, it is slated for what is the most non-Iraqi part of Iraq. The site is on a windswept hilltop along the outskirts of Sulaimaniya, the eastern capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, 150 miles north of Baghdad and far from the car bombs and death squads that are tearing apart the Arab regions of Iraq. Because of its relative safety so far, Kurdistan can more easily attract aid and reconstruction money.

It’s telling that Baghdad, for centuries a center of learning in the Arab world, is barely being considered for the next American University in an "Arab" country.

Say what you will about the Kurds—their government is corrupt, their intent to secede poorly disguised, their thumbing of noses at Ankara poorly timed—they are well-organized and have carved out a stable portion of Iraq, and those are currently the only factors that matter to those with money to invest in Mesopotamia.

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