A bombing at a private Shiite college in Iraq on Sunday was likely an attempt to fan sectarian conflict in the run-up to the first parliamentary election since American troops pulled out of the country in late 2011, observers said.
Reports varied about the number killed in the campus attack, which occurred on the same day as other attacks around the country, but the most conservative estimates counted five dead and 13 wounded.
“Students were terrified, but they helped the security forces and cooperated with them,” said an administrator at Imam Kadhim University, speaking to the Al-Alam Al-Jadid newspaper.
Bombings remain commonplace, particularly in central Iraq, and armed groups, including Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq , continued to carry out acts of violence targeting academics, security forces and government buildings. The recent explosions came as part of a recent surge in Iraq’s Shiite-Sunni bloody conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives over the past few years. The Sunni Arab minority say they are mistreated by the Shiite-led government and security forces.
“We were all afraid,” said a woman who lives next to the university. “All the schools in the area were emptied. We are afraid of new attacks in the future, especially since the elections are so close.”
Students at Imam Kadhim University pursue Islamic religious studies, law, Arabic and English lunder the direction of the Waqf Shiite Council. Many study for free and plan on becoming lawyers and judges in the future. Founded in 2008, the university has some branches in other parts of Iraq.
Five suicide bombers wearing explosive vests tried to break into the college around 10:30 in the morning, said residents. One bomber exploded his vest outside the university. Others fought their way past security checkpoints at the building’s front and back gates, killing a policeman and injuring a handful of students. One attacker detonated his bomb on campus, killing more people. Police killed a third and arrested a fourth. A fifth managed to escape.
The Iraqi higher-education minister, Ali al-Adeeb called on Iraqi and other Middle Eastern researchers to search deeply into the phenomenon of suicide bombers and study the factors that have made thousands of young people into ticking time bombs, destroyed communities and torn apart families. “Universities and educational institutions should be the national environment to contribute to strengthening social coexistence elements and to avoid extremism,” Al-Adeeb said during an international conference titled Suicide Operationd in Iraq: Psychological and Social Perspectives, held in Baghdad last week.
Sectarian fighting put significant pressure on Iraq’s education system in the years following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack recent study. There were also claims that control over particular universities was increasingly being handed to political parties. For instance, it was reported that Baghdad University had been ‘allocated’ to the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq, Al-Mustansiriya University to the Sadr Group, and Al-Nahrain University to the Al-Dawa Party. “These groups interfered in many aspects of university life, including admissions, hiring, course content and physical security on campus.” the study said. Moreover, hundreds of academics were assassinated during the last five years and the Ministry of Education recorded 31,600 attacks against universities and schools.
On April 22, in an incident that wasn’t necessarily related to the Sunday bombings, gunmen in government military uniforms kidnapped Basim al-Karkhi, a Sunni law professor, in the Iraqi eastern province of Diyala, reports said.