Until the 1990s, Iraq had perhaps the best university system in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein's regime used oil revenues to underwrite free tuition for Iraqi university students -- churning out doctors, scientists, and engineers who joined the country's burgeoning middle class and anchored development. Although political dissent was strictly off-limits, Iraqi universities were professional, secular institutions that were open to the West, and spaces where male and female, Sunni and Shia mingled. Also the schools pushed hard to educate women, who constituted 30 percent of Iraqi university faculties by 1991. [...]Out of $90 billion appropriated for reconstruction and counterinsurgency in Iraq for 2004, less than one one-hundredth of one percent was earmarked for reconstruction of the universities.
[...] As the international sanctions regime cut off journal subscriptions and equipment purchases, academic salaries fell precipitously, and 10,000 Iraqi professors left the country. [...]
In 2003, after the invasion, many Iraqi professors hoped that their university system would be revitalized under US occupation. They expected funding to buy new books, to replace equipment, and to repair the damage inflicted by the sanctions. And they hoped for new tolerance for open debate and inquiry.
In fact, the opposite happened.