More than 200 Iraqi-American intellectual leaders debated that question at a meeting last weekend in Washington, D.C. The Iraqi Academic Conference, organized by the Iraqi embassy, brought together scientists, physicians, and other academics to discuss aiding their counterparts in Iraq, where sectarian violence has been blamed for the deaths of more than 300 professors and the departure of hundreds more. Billions of dollars of aid have flowed into the country, but little has worked to revitalize Iraq's academic sector. “We want to help, but the Iraqis need so much," said Muayyad Al-Ubaidi, an Iraqi-born biochemist at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.
He and others said Iraqis must “prioritize” their needs.The academics considered creating a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to promote collaboration among universities and research groups. They also called on Iraq’s government to improve Internet access, stop politicizing higher education appointments, and block construction projects that threaten archaeological sites.
An Iraqi proposal to fund as many as 10,000 fellowship awards to allow Iraqi students to study and conduct research at U.S. universities over the next few years got a mixed reaction. While some said exchange programs are a good way to develop expertise in Iraq, others feared they would only exacerbate the brain drain. Initial U.S. government efforts to revive higher education and scientific research in Iraq have so far been ineffective, most speakers agreed.
Physician Hadi Al Khalili, the Iraqi cultural attaché who organized the conference, said he would send its recommendations to the Iraqi government and compile a database of Iraqi-American academics. While he did not promise or rule out creation of an NGO, Al Khalili urged the scientists to sign up for an advisory committee that would suggest the best ways to promote collaboration.