Iraqi Claims American Boss Created Divisions

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 25, 2006 3 min read
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Nidhal Kadhim, an Iraqi and a former high school principal at the United Nations Baghdad International School, maintains that Creative Associates International Inc. could have done much more to improve schools in Iraq if it had made better use of the skills of her fellow citizens.

Nidhal Kadhim contends that Americans could have put Iraqi educators' skills to better use.

She contends that the last chief of party, or head of operations, she worked for there looked down on Iraqis, though she said the previous three chiefs of party who were her bosses were respectful to her. Ms. Kadhim was an adviser to the model schools program for the company from May 2005 to February 2006, when she resigned and moved to Amman, Jordan.

“I didn’t leave the country because I was threatened. I didn’t leave Creative because I was afraid of taking the risks,” she said by phone this month. “I was willing to take the risks if I were given an active role in things, but to be set aside when there were things that I could contribute to, this is the point that really annoyed me.”

Some Iraqi employees of Creative Associates—the Washington-based contractor hired by the U.S. Agency for International Development to support schools after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq—received written notes threatening harm to them because they worked for an American company, she said. Some fellow Iraqis told her she shouldn’t work for Americans, a message she believed they might have received from people who were a threat to her.

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Ms. Kadhim claims that the last chief of party she worked for created two categories of workers, not by posts, duties, or professional criteria, but according to whether they were locals or foreigners. Under that arrangement, the 20 or so Iraqi employees were not invited to the regular meetings held for international staff members, and they were asked not to interact directly with Iraqi Ministry of Education or USAID officials, she maintains.

“For the first time, I felt what it meant to be a second-class citizen in my own country,” Ms. Kadhim said. “I cursed the day Americans set foot in Iraq.”

Staff Not Split, Firm Says

Stephen Horblitt, the director of external relations for Creative Associates, and Jeffrey Ghannan, the company’s director of communications, said in an e-mail message that it’s not true that the chief of party divided Iraqis and foreign workers into two groups. “Meetings were held with both expatriate and local staff members,” they said, but declined to clarify if both groups were present at the same meetings.

Ms. Kadhim said it wasn’t just her 25 years’ experience in education in Iraq that was wasted. Another Iraqi employee of Creative Associates, she said, had 40 years of experience working in the Ministry of Education and was very well respected there. “He could do things simply by talking with people. The [chief of party] made a point of not including him either,” she contended.

Mr. Horblitt and Mr. Ghannan said the Creative Associates office had an officer who served as a liaison to the ministry.

Ms. Kadhim said she was one of the highest-paid Iraqis on the Creative Associates staff, with a salary of $1,800 a month, or $21,600 a year.

By contrast, one of the highest-paid Americans on what is known as the Education II contract, Fuad Suleiman, a chief of party, said, when asked, that he had received a salary of $149,200 plus an extra 30 percent because of the violent conditions in Iraq.

Creative Associates officials said the USAID set salary levels for both Iraqis and international employees.

Now the head of the English department for a private school in Amman, Ms. Kadhim said she didn’t resent the differences in salaries.

But she is disappointed that the USAID money didn’t do more to improve Iraq’s schools. “Schools in Iraq,” she said, “are still suffering at every level—buildings, facilities, curriculum, textbooks, teaching methodology, and any other aspect you can think of.”

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A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2006 edition of Education Week as Iraqi Claims American Boss Created Divisions


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