Condemning the kidnappings of scores of people at the Iraqi Higher Education Ministry as “a nefarious crime,” the top United Nations official in the violence-wracked country today called on the authorities to take immediate action to free the victims.
In a statement issued by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Ashraf Qazi warned of the dangerous effects that the kidnapping of the ministry employees and visitors could have on Iraq’s development.
“Mr. Qazi described the kidnappings, which were conducted in broad daylight, allegedly by uniformed perpetrators, as a nefarious crime that could dangerously and negatively effect progress and development in Iraq, a country long known for its literary and scientific tradition,” the statement said.
“He called on the Iraqi authorities to immediately and inexorably pursue those responsible, free the abductees and ensure the sanctity of higher education.”
Mr. Qazi’s call was echoed by UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chief Koïchiro Matsuura, who said the international community, working with the Iraqi authorities, must deploy all possible means to bring “this intolerable situation” to an end.
“I call on the hostage-takers to release their captives immediately. These people are innocent. They must be freed, safe and sound,” said Mr Matsuura, who was speaking from Cairo where he is attending the annual meeting of the High Level Group on Education for All.
“Iraq needs its intellectuals and academics now more than ever. But over recent months they, and the education system as a whole, have been deliberately targeted in a campaign of bloodshed and violence being waged by people whose sole aim is to prevent Iraq’s reconstruction as a peaceful, prosperous and democratic nation,” he added.
The Iraqi Ministry told UNESCO that between 100 and 150 men at the Departments of Scholarships and Culture and Reconstruction, Sunnis and Shiites, were abducted. According to the Ministry of Higher Education, at least 155 education professionals have been killed in Iraq since 2003.