Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.


Science in the Crosshairs in Iraq

Iraq's legacy as a mecca of learning falls casualty to chaos.

By Stephen OrnesNovember 8, 2006 6:00 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

As the number of Iraqi civilian casualties skyrockets, academics in general and scientists in particular are emerging as an unlikely group of targets. Around 200 have already been killed, and evidence shows that violence has been escalating. In April, scholars who convened at the Madrid International Conference on the Assassination of Iraqi Academics reported that the number of academics killed in 2005 totaled more than the numbers in 2003 and 2004 combined. Soon after, the journal Scienceauthenticated (subscription required) a widely circulated anonymous pamphlet containing a hit list of 461 scientists targeted for murder.

So who are the hit men? "Many things are being said," says Zohair Mohsen, a former director of scientific relations for the nonprofit Arab Science and Technology Foundation. "One is that outside powers are trying to liquidate these people so Iraq will not have the potential to develop scientific research in the future," he says. "Another is that they are being killed because they are related to Saddam's regime. But many of the victims had nothing to do with Saddam—the people who study literature, many of the chemists." Other theories suggest that the kidnappings and killings are motivated by money or sectarian hostility or are being carried out by secret militias funded by Iran or the United States.

Regardless of the motivations, the killings have far-reaching repercussions. "We have lost the healthy atmosphere necessary for the advancement of science," says a former University of Baghdad professor who prefers to remain anonymous. "The scientific attitude among people has been lost, and consequently we see the dominance of superstitions and the abuse of religion."

Nearly 85 percent of Iraq's universities have been severely damaged or destroyed. Looting has emptied laboratories, and many scientists who remain in Iraq are hobbled by security concerns. "What's happening now is chaos," Mohsen says. "If you don't agree with somebody, you can get a weapon and kill them." 

    3 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 50%


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In