AMSTERDAM—The ancient Iraqi city of Mosul is on the front line in the war with Da’esh, also known as Islamic State. Since the group captured the city in June 2014, the University of Mosul has kept going in temporary locations in the city of Dohuk, about 75 kilometers to the north. Al-Fanar Media spoke with Obay Sa’id al-Dewachi, president of the University of Mosul, when he was attending a conference here recently.
On January 14, Iraqi forces re-captured the original university campus, as part of the campaign to retake Mosul, according to media reports. The city is the last major Islamic State stronghold in Iraq.
Established as a university in 1968, the University of Mosul was considered one of the best in Iraq. Its 22 faculties covered a range of disciplines, though it is best known for science and medicine. At the time of the Islamic State invasion it had about 30,000 students, 700 full professors and more than 2,000 instructors. Obay al-Dewachi has been president since 2004.
Da’esh seized the university campus while students were taking exams. The full extent of the physical destruction the group wrought on university property and in the surrounding area is not yet known, but thousands of books and manuscripts in the university library are believed to have been destroyed. But Da’esh did not shut down the university completely.
The university has been operating in exile in Duhok. (See a related article “The University of Mosul Could Show the Way in Post-War Reconstruction.”
Obay Sa’id al-Dewachi has deep family roots in Mosul. His father, Sa’id al-Dewachi, was a distinguished historian who wrote more than 30 books on the history of Mosul and related subjects. His father was also the first director of the Museum of Mosul, a post he held from its founding in 1952 until his retirement in 1968. Obay al-Dewachi’s grandfather was Sheikh Ahmad al-Dewachi, a well-known mufti and Islamic jurist.
Al-Dewachi talked in the interview about recent events at the University of Mosul, and his thoughts about the role of the university in Iraqi society after the war.
– It was reported that you survived an attempt to kill you.
It’s true. I spent one month in hospital in Turkey. The bullets went in here and came out here [pointing to his neck]. There were also four bullets in my back. The university gives contracts for construction projects based on competitive bidding. Da’esh came to me and told me they wanted five or 10 percent of the value of the contracts. I refused, and so they shot me.
– An article in Al-Fanar Media discussed the views of Da’esh on education. How did they put their ideology into practice after they seized control of the university?
They ordered the segregation of classes by sex. But most of the students left, because the government in Baghdad announced that it would not recognize any certificate or diploma issued by the university while it was under the control of Da’esh. They closed every faculty except medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and nursing. And then they insisted that the students and instructors in these subjects must treat the general population. This was after most of the students in these faculties had either gone home or gone to Dohuk [the university’s temporary campus]. There were only a few hundred students in these faculties where previously there had been thousands.
– Did the teaching staff in these faculties have to continue working?
Yes, it was compulsory. If they caught a person trying to leave, they would kill him. They paid them $100 per month.
– Can you tell us what you know about the physical condition of the campus now?
Much of the destruction was caused by aerial bombing—we don’t know by whom. For instance, they bombed the university printing press. It was being used by Da’esh to print their propaganda, so they bombed it. It was a fantastic printing press: we had had it since 1968. It came from Heidelberg, and we used it to produce academic books. But a lot of other buildings in Mosul were destroyed too.
– What will have to be different in Iraqi society once the war with Da’esh is over?
It’s a very harsh lesson. When you lose your house, and everything in it, and all your memories, as many of us have in recent years—no one can imagine this who has not been through it. But you can’t think about revenge, you have to think about how to live the right way. And that means that you should stop thinking about tribe, nationality or religious identity. Tribal allegiance too often allows a person to get away with actions that are clearly wrong.
– What can higher education do in this regard?
Students come to university to get a degree, so that they can get a job. To teach a person about citizenship, about ethics, is the responsibility of his mother and his father. Political or social reform have their place outside the university.
The interview was edited for clarity and brevity.