For the last three-and-a-half decades, Iraq has been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. 1980 saw an ultimately disastrous invasion of neighbour Iran which mutated into the twentieth century’s longest conventional war; almost exactly ten years later, another catastrophic territorial intervention – this time against tiny Kuwait – brought global retribution. Crippling and arguably genocidal sanctions, yet another war (though with very different antecedents) and sensational levels of violence constitute most people’s knowledge about Iraq – if they possess much at all.
However, recently our Creative Director & CSO came across a piece of news that could – in the long term – help rehabilitate the image of what was until the 1970s one of the richest countries in the world: the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education has announced the establishment of 19 colleges and 36 departments. These new institutions span Iraq: they include new universities at Mosul and Kirkuk in the north, and Basra on the Persian Gulf.
This significant investment in human capital comes at a time when Iraq is something of a crossroads. On the one hand, sectarian violence – virtually unheard of in the modern period before 2003 – is still a grim reality, and some parts of the country are almost beyond parody: the tragic example of Fallujah, which suffered massive human, cultural and ecological damage during the most recent war, is currently being contested by several forces, including – with no little irony – Al-Qaeda.
Conversely, economic stability of sorts has returned to much of Iraq: typical salaries of US$500.00 per month for civil servants are not uncommon, and shopping malls are springing up everywhere. The October 2013 completion of Basra Sports City – which includes a glittering 65,000 capacity stadium, a new home for the surprisingly successful Iraq national football team – illustrates that big-ticket projects are possible once again in Iraq. In this context, the swathe of new higher educational investments appears to be a vital step in continuing Iraq’s extremely shaky recovery from a generation of mayhem – and an important step in generating the future human capital needed to solve the country’s many pressing problems.