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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 January, 2004, 09:45 GMT
Web lifeline for Iraqi academics
Iraqi academics are using the power of the web to help them rebuild vital links with their fellow colleagues and students.

Victory arch in Iraq
Many Iraqi academics wish to return to their country
Thousands of Iraqis fled the country or were forced to leave during Saddam Hussein's regime.

Many of them were professors and intellectuals who were cut off from the rest of the academic world for more than a decade.

Iraqi scientist Dr Abduljabbar al-Wahedi has set up a website to help academics like himself establish links with colleges, universities, and students in Iraq, in a attempt to reinvigorate further education there.

It is also appealing to Iraq's intellectuals to return home to start teaching once more.

"Now, with the era of technology, we can communicate with each other and it is easy to communicate," said Dr al-Wahedi.

I send an e-mail, they respond to it the next day, and that's how it goes," he told BBC World Service programme Go Digital.

Permission to type

"Previously, the regime forbid all Iraqis even to have a type writer in their home," explained Dr al-Wahedi.

"That was not allowed unless you got permission from security. For this reason, using e-mail or the internet is something new for them."

As well as linking up Iraq's academics now living in countries as far a field as New Zealand and Brazil, the members are also helping students studying in Iraq.

Dr Abduljabbar Al-Wahedi
Safety is still a major obstacle, but it is not as the media imagines it
Dr Abduljabbar al-Wahedi
"Sometimes we receive an e-mail from Iraqi students asking for literature.

"What we say to them is to look at the website for Iraqi academics all over the world with the same major and contact them directly. They are more than happy to help them and to help Iraqi education"

Even if the academics do not want to uproot themselves once more and move permanently back to Iraq, they are encouraged through the website to return temporarily to lecture.

But, said Dr al-Wahedi, some have gone back to assess what life is like in Iraq and have decided to stay, even though they had no intention of moving back.

"I have one member who got an invitation from a university. He went to visit and a month later he sent me an e-mail saying he was going back to Iraq permanently."

Building sites

Persuading people to return to a country where infrastructure was decimated before, as well as during war, is a difficult task.

Even though there are few incentives to return, including lack of money, deteriorated facilities as well as danger, many are not deterred, said Dr al-Wahedi.

"Safety is still a major obstacle, but it is not as the media imagines it," he said.

"There are difficult situations here and there, but Iraqis have a big interest in helping their country."

Although there are many universities still without e-mail, Dr al-Wahedi said he hoped by the end of the year his organisation will have helped every university build their own site, so they too can connect to the academic community once more.

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