| Mosul university teacher Dr Khalil Al Saif in a looted and burnt computer classroom. (Reuters)
Mosul, April 25 (Reuters): Dr Khalil al-Saif holds back tears as he shows gutted classrooms and ruined equipment at Mosul University — shattered by war without a bomb coming near.
Armed men stole or destroyed all they could at the campus two weeks ago, taking advantage of a power vacuum to mount a looting spree that has left Saif and other university officials struggling to prepare for the return of students as life regains a semblance of normality elsewhere in Iraq’s third largest city.
To make matters worse, the issue of university security is becoming a source of friction between the US military and officials who want to keep soldiers away from the campus.
It is a problem which illustrates the sort of challenge faced by the US army as it seeks to impose authority without upsetting locals in a city of more than one million people.
“The students will not tolerate direct contact with the occupying forces,” university President Zuhair al-Sharook said in his office overlooking the campus entrance, guarded by Kurdish “peshmerga” fighters with Kalashnikov rifles.
He was speaking after a recent visit from officials of the US army, which poured thousands of troops into the northern city this week in a show of force aimed at restoring order.
Sharook said he asked the peshmerga to protect the sprawling university, which has 18,000 students, until civilian guards could be arranged. A US army officer said the university administrator had wanted nothing to do with the American forces.
Well-armed Arab and Kurdish factions have been competing for power in Mosul since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s rule and US forces fear the city could be beset by factional fighting along ethnic and religious lines.
There has also been opposition to the US invasion, especially since Marines shot dead at least seven people at a protest in the city centre last week. Angered at the destruction in the university and beyond, Sharook said armed US soldiers were not welcome on the campus.
“The Mongol emperor Hulago came to destroy Baghdad in 1280 and burned all the schools. Now history is repeating itself with the Hulago of the 21st century,” he said, echoing a comment made by Saddam Hussein before the war.
The scale of the damage done to the university is obvious along the campus entrance road, which is littered with dozens of ruined computers, photocopiers, fax machines and pieces of furniture which have been recovered — a small fraction of what was stolen on April 10, according to campus officials.
They said the first looters were dressed in traditional Kurdish costume and were followed later in the day by armed Arab militia. The frightened staff could do little to stop them.