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Iraq Deans Seek Official’s Reinstatement

September 29, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Six months after a war to uproot dictatorship and plant democracy’s seeds, a new battle of Baghdad has flared in the palmy quadrangles of the national university, where the freely elected president has been fired by a political appointee. The ex-president claims it’s illegal, and protesters have clashed with police.

``This can’t be democracy!″ said one student.

In Monday’s latest volley, Baghdad University’s 29 college deans, the University Council, wrote to the new minister of higher education, who fired their president, saying the dismissal was unjustified and asking for his reinstatement. The academic year is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

The ministry removed Sami al-Mudhafar as university president on Sept. 25 in a surprise move, ``because of his inability to carry out his duties as an administrator,″ said ministry spokesman Nahadh Fadeh. He noted in particular a dispute between al-Mudhafar and the new minister, Zayad Abdul-Razzaq Mohammed Aswad, over the removal of 300 professors and other members of Saddam Hussein’s ousted Baath party from the university’s staff, and over the process for reinstating some.

The details of that dispute are themselves disputed.

``Some say I’m pro-Baathist, some say I’m against them,″ al-Mudhafar said with a small grin. But all agree the longtime biochemistry professor was moving slowly _ carefully, he says _ to restore some dismissed Baathists to the faculty after individual reviews. ``It takes time to study each individual,″ he said in an interview. ``The council decided we needed information from security records.″

The appointed minister and elected president also disagreed over what to do with land that has reverted to the university after years of use as a private club founded by Saddam’s son, Odai.

To al-Mudhafar, in his mid-60s, the bottom line of his dismissal is ``politics.″ Students agree. ``We heard many reasons why he was fired, but we weren’t convinced of any of it. The minister just doesn’t like him,″ said graduate science student Ala Mohammed.

About 200 faculty members and other protesters demonstrated their unhappiness outside the Higher Education Ministry on Saturday, in a noisy confrontation that ended with police firing tear gas canisters and shots into the air to scatter them. The ministry spokesman said some in the crowd had flung stones at an arriving motorcade, thinking mistakenly it carried the minister.

Whatever the reasons for the dismissal, makeshift posters and student interviews at the sprawling green campus in southern Baghdad make clear the university community sees his removal as a blow to hopes for less autocracy in the post-Saddam era.

``Dr. Sami was elected in the presence of an American coordinator. This was democracy,″ said student Ali Walid, 21. ``What is the sense of changing an elected president so easily? This can’t be democracy!″

Al-Mudhafar’s election last May 14, by the entire faculty, represented one of the first bursts of popular politics in the weeks following the American military occupation of Baghdad, when no Iraqi administration existed but some workplaces organized voting for their own leaderships, sometimes with U.S. advisers involved.

In mid-August, the U.S. occupation authority named a 25-member Iraqi Governing Council to begin to take over national administration. On Sept. 1, that council named a 25-member interim Cabinet, including Aswad, who holds a doctorate in oil engineering and was also a longtime Baghdad University professor.

Both al-Mudhafar and Aswad are U.S.-educated _ the biochemist at the University of Virginia, and Aswad at the University of Southern California and University of Oklahoma.

Aswad’s spokesman said Baghdad was the only university that did not submit a required list of names of dismissed Baathists. ``It seems the president of the university wanted to interpret this matter the way he wanted,″ Fadeh said.

Some students believe al-Mudhafar wanted to keep Baathists from returning, but the ousted president said he knew there were ``good people″ among the dismissed professors. He simply had received confusing, conflicting orders about how to handle them, he said in the interview at his home.

``They have to clarify things,″ he said. But he added that the minister had never discussed the issue with him.

The ministry has not announced whether it will replace al-Mudhafar through election or appointment. An assistant, meantime, is acting president.

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