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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 March 2007, 15:37 GMT
Iraqi scholars fighting for an education
By Hugh Sykes
BBC News, Baghdad

Military checkpoint in Iraq
There is danger everywhere (Pictures: Hugh Sykes)
Violence, and fear of violence, are corroding educational standards in Iraq.

Even the planning expert at the Ministry of Education, Nabil al Mira, admitted to me that he keeps his 15-year-old son at home after bomb attacks in Baghdad.

He only lets him go back to school when the city has been quiet for two days.

So his son has been at home a lot.

Getting to school or university is a daily struggle.

Students and teachers are frequently delayed by bomb attacks, or by traffic jams near checkpoints.

Iraq pupil Ali and friends
Ten-year-old Ali dreams of a "City of Peace"

At a primary school, 10-year-old Ali tells me: "I want Baghdad to be Dar-es-Salaam as it used to be." Dar-es-Salaam - City of Peace - is an old name for the Iraqi capital.

In the English department at Baghdad University, linguistics teacher Shatha al Jeidi sniffs and struggles to hold back tears.

"From the moment I get out of my house, I think of inevitable death, at any moment... that I may not see my family again and they fear the same," she said.

Exam challenges

She says her students have to endure this too - so how, she wonders, can they concentrate on their studies and do well?

Students sit the same exams on different days depending on when they can get to campus. They have to be trusted not to reveal the questions to their friends.

Iraq primary school children waving
Primary school children remain positive despite the difficulties

On a bookshelf, there are four photographs of colleagues who have been killed. One shows a smiling middle-aged man with gold-rimmed spectacles and a moustache. This was Rafi.

Rafi, an English-language lecturer, received a warning one day not to give low marks. He ignored the warning and continued to apply the usual standards to students' exam papers.

Rafi was shot dead getting into his car to go to work at the university.

Bullet threat

Two other lecturers have received death threats.

One found a bullet on her desk with her name written on it.

Students walking at Baghdad University
The scene at Baghdad University is deceptively calm

Another came to work one morning to find a message scrawled on her office wall: "Warning - you risk the same fate as Rafi."

Students have been threatened too. A 19-year-old told me a man approached her near her home, and said women shouldn't study, and that she would be killed if she carried on going to college.

She is still going to college.

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