From a small, windowless room on the first floor of Baghdad’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Abdul Razzaq Al-Issa oversaw Iraq’s universities and research activities during a difficult period when the Islamic State controlled large swaths of his country.
“I was fully aware of the task’s difficulties and challenges, but I was independent and not affiliated with any party,” Al-Issa, who was in office from 2016 to 2018, said in a recent telephone interview. “I had a business plan and a clear strategy that was not subject to any partisan favoritism.”
Al-Issa, who is now devoted to writing his thoughts on reforming his country’s higher-education sector after it was almost completely destroyed, succeeded in setting plans to restart universities that were closed by terrorist organizations. He also successfully protected many professors and students who were at risk. (See two related articles, “University of Mosul President Looks to a Post-Da’esh Future” and “What Education Is Like Under the Islamic State.”)
“Al-Issa’s super courage and independence made his mission, at that difficult time, of a great impact on Iraq’s education during that critical phase of the country’s history,” said Obay Sa’eed Al-Dewachi, who served as president of the University of Mosul from 2004 to 2019.
Reopening Universities Was a Priority
Upon taking office as minister, Al-Issa’s priority was clear: to restart the universities in Mosul, Al-Anbar and Fallujah, which had closed after violent terrorist attacks destroyed much of their infrastructure. (See a related article, “Islamic State Advance in Iraq Closes Eight Universities.”)
At the same time, Al-Issa issued an exceptional decision granting these universities’ students who had not been able to attend classes for more than two years the opportunity to resume their studies, while providing scholarships for them to help cope with living difficulties after the destruction of their homes.