Iraqi Students Protest Attacks by Religious Extremists


3-29-05, 8:50 am

Students at Basrah and Shatt Al-Arab Universities struck in mid-March in protest of religious extremist violence aimed at women students and others who support equal gender relations and secular lifestyles. He added that he had sent the 'group of believers' to observe and photograph the students only. But when the militiamen saw them playing loud music, 'the kind they play in bars and discos,' and openly talking to female students, the 'believers had to straighten things out.'

Thousands of students protested after the violence shouting slogans such as 'No to political Islam,' 'No to the new tyranny,' and 'No to Sadr.' The police reportedly attacked the students during the strikes and protests in order to disperse the demonstrations.

In an attempt to appease the students, local officials publicly announced that they had met with Sadr and had resolved the matter peacefully. Sadr's representatives said they would punish the attackers in a special, private religious court.

Students condemned this action saying that local elected officials had handed jurisdiction of a civil case to a private individual, completely bypassing the rule of law. They pointed out the Basrah governor's close affiliation with the political coalition to which al-Sadr and his following belong as a possible motive for this course of action.

One student wrote on a blog, 'The Governor literally appointed Sadr’s office as judge, witness and law-enforcer. We might even say that the Sadrists were in fact rewarded for their vile act.'

This student compared the situation to a fascist-style tactic often used by the 'university security' authorities empowered under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship to seek out and destroy political opposition on university campuses.

Student organization in different parts of the country, including Baghdad, Arbil, and Suleimaniya condemned the attacks and sent statements of solidarity with the Basrah students.

Students in Suleimaniya have been subjected to violence as well. Four students were injured in Suleimaniya during the second week of demonstrations against privatization of educational institutions in the Kurdish region.

The Iraqi Democratic Youth Federation (IDYF) released a statement condemning the attacks on the Basrah students. 'While strongly condemning these blatant violations of human rights, we consider this attack a form of laying seeds threatening Iraq' future democratic schemes. We declare our full solidarity with the victims of the attack ... with all Iraqi youth and students, as they relentlessly strive for a better future of a new Iraq.'

The IDYF called on all students and youth to declare solidarity with the victims of the attack and to demand an end to 'any oppression and to attempts to use religion as cover for usurping the rights achieved by Iraqi people through their own sacrifices and struggle.'

The Basrah University branch of the General Union of Students in the Iraqi Republic protested the attacks and urged support for the student demonstrations, saying: 'We all aspire to a democratic Iraq that would have nothing to do with Saddam's regime and in no way resemble the movement of Taliban.'

--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and may be reached at