New Iraqi Education Minister Named

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 09, 2004 2 min read
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A biochemist who earned his doctorate in the United States was named Iraq’s interim minister of education last week. He replaces a former World Health Organization official who had served in the position since last September.

Sami Al-Mudhaffar, 64, a longtime professor of biochemistry at the University of Baghdad, assumed his new job June 1 as the full membership of the country’s new interim government was announced. He had been the deputy minister of education since April.

On that same day last week, Dr. Ala’din Alwan, the medical doctor who had been the minister of education, was named Iraq’s interim minister of health.

“I’m trying to continue the same policy of the minister, Dr. Alwan,” Mr. Al-Mudhaffar said in a phone interview last week from Baghdad. “I’m trying to speed up various things he has already managed.”

Mr. Al-Mudhaffer said his first priority was to finish the implementation of end-of- year exams.

“We do have to organize the skeleton of the ministry,” he added. “We do have a problem in evaluation of the staff, particularly those high-ranking managers of the ministry.”

Politics and Academe

Mr. Al-Mudhaffer was chosen through a process facilitated by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations’ special adviser on Iraq, in consultation with Iraqis and the Coalition Provisional Authority, according to a press release from the authority. As with the other leaders appointed last week, Mr. Al-Mudhaffar is expected to stay in his post until elections are held in Iraq in December or January.

Pam Riley, the senior education consultant for the provisional authority, which assumed control following the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime last year, said she believes Mr. Al-Mudhaffer will be a strong leader.

Mr. Al-Mudhaffer was born in Basra, Iraq, and earned a bachelor’s degree in science with honors from the University of Baghdad in 1960. Six years later, he earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va., and then returned to Iraq. He taught at the University of Basra from 1967 to 1973 and then at the University of Baghdad from 1973 until two months ago.

The faculty elected Mr. Al-Mudhaffer president of the university in May 2003. But Ziad Abdel Razzaq Aswad, then Iraq’s minister of higher education, fired Mr. Al-Mudhaffer in September, citing his failure to get rid of faculty members who had been members of Mr. Hussein’s Baath Party.

Mr. Al-Mudhaffer chuckled over the telephone last week about his firing and said that faculty members and students had demonstrated in support of him. He said the policy barring former Baathists from holding university jobs wasn’t clear at the time.

In addition, he said, “I’m an independent man. I don’t believe in having politics in the university. I believe in the university as an independent establishment, making decisions without any effect of the ministry.”

He added that he hoped the work of the Education Ministry would be free of “the effect of any politics.”

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A version of this article appeared in the June 09, 2004 edition of Education Week as New Iraqi Education Minister Named


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