By The Gazette Editorial Board
Seven years after U.S. troops were deployed to unseat then-President Saddam Hussein, military operations in Iraq have ended. But rebuilding the Middle East democracy — isolated and ruled by a brutal dictator then wracked by years of conflict and insurgency — has only begun.
Nurturing Iraq’s fledgling democracy will take time, resources and a large corps of well-trained and dedicated new leaders. So we’re glad to see the University of Iowa taking an active role in helping educate future Iraqi leaders so they can return home with skills their nation needs to stabilize and grow.
The UI is one of a handful of U.S. universities participating in the Iraqi Education Initiative, a pilot scholarship program intended to help rebuild the country’s educational system and train Iraq’s next generation of policymakers and scholars.
Through the program, the Iraqi government pays tuition and living expenses to enable scholarship recipients’ pursuit of bachelors, masters or doctoral degrees. In return, recipients agree to return to Iraq after graduation and spend time working for the Iraqi government.
About 80 Iraqi students are studying this fall at universities in the United States, including five doctoral students at the UI. All five are taking an intensive English language program before enrolling in their regular course work in chemical engineering, math, medicine, geology or biology. Here, they’ll have access to better research facilities, library and other resources. They’ll be able to learn from some of the best in their field.
And since none of the students has traveled to our country, the students also must learn to maneuver their way around U.S. culture — the food, the customs, the people.
“It’s a shock, just like we come from another planet,” one of the students recently told a Gazette reporter. “We are educated, but here we feel ignorant.”
But as the Iraqi students find their feet, their adjustment to American life — and the relationships they build during their stay — will pay dividends beyond their academic pursuits.
Training and educating foreign scholars has long been a tradition in this country, in part, because it helps build cross-cultural understanding and international goodwill.
There are signs that the Iraqi Education Initiative is paying off in those less-tangible ways.
“The people of Iowa are very open and gentle and nice with us,” Iraqi student Adnan Abdulwahid, told that reporter.
It’s an experience we’re glad the students are gaining.
The Iraqi government hopes to expand the program, eventually sending 10,000 students to study abroad each year for the next five years. If all goes according to plan, the program could help anchor a thriving Iraqi democracy — and further validate the UI’s participation.