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Cablegate: Religious Battleground No Longer, Mustansiriyah

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RR RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDH RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #0193/01 0251700
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 251700Z JAN 10 ZDS
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6299
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 000193

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (CAPTION ADDED)

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TAGS: PGOV SCUL ASEC PTER KISL IZ
SUBJECT: RELIGIOUS BATTLEGROUND NO LONGER, MUSTANSIRIYAH
UNIVERSITY RETURNS TO ACADEMIC RESPECTABILITY

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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: ePRT Baghdad Northeast Team Leader met in
late December with new Mustansiriyyah University Vice
Chancellor for Administrative Affairs, Dr. Adil al-Baghdadi,
to review efforts to reduce the influence of extremist
political and religious groups on campus. Baghdadi described
2009 as a lost academic year due to battles for control
between students affiliated with the Sadrist Trend and the
Badr Organization, and students affiliated with rival
political entities. He noted that still powerful and radical
sectarians exist in the student body and among the faculty
and administration. Baghdadi highlighted his ambitious plans
for reform and his need for financial support in modernizing
one of the largest universities in Iraq, with 65,000
students. He predicted that a plurality of students would
not vote due to disillusionment with the political process.
END SUMMARY.


NEW LEADERSHIP AT MUSTANSIRIYAH UNIVERSITY

2. (SBU) In a December 30, 2009, meeting with ePRT Northeast
Team Leader, Vice Chancellor Dr. Adil al-Baghdadi, a
professor of business administration who has worked in the
Ministry of Higher Education for 30 years, stressed that a
new team is in town. He and the University's new President
(Ihsan Khadum Shareif), both nominated by Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki, have been in office since early December. They
are Shi'a (the University President is from Najaf and
Baghdadi described him as "religious but progressive") and
have worked together before. Their immediate mandate is to
return the University to academic respectability by, in part,
marginalizing the influence of the Sadrist Trend within the
University. The University, composed of 12 colleges, has
65,000 students, and as many as 1500 lecturers. At one time
favored by Saddam and a redoubt of Ba'athist influence, it
has received only minimal financial assistance since 1990.
In the past nine months, it has had five Presidents, at one
point having three rival administrations simultaneously.
(NOTE: In mid-2009 the Ministry of Higher Education
appointed a University president who was not recognized by
the University's 12 colleges, which continued to recognize
the incumbent. Shortly afterwards, a third individual was
named University President by the Prime Minister's office.
All three have now been replaced by the new University
President, who has full faculty support. END NOTE.)


RADICALS REMAIN ON CAMPUS

3. (SBU) Baghdadi described the past nine months as a time
when the University could not properly be called an academic
institution but was rather a religious and political
battleground between student supporters of the Sadrist
Trend and the Badr Organization and students affiliated with
rival political entities. (NOTE: The Sadrists and Badr
Organization are technically allies within the Iraqi National
Alliance. END NOTE.) Baghdadi noted that still powerful and
radical sectarians remain in the student body and among the
faculty and administration. Student unions were closed last
October and some of their leaders were arrested, but before
accepting his appointment, Baghdadi negotiated with student
leaders, whom he described as intent on retaining influence
in, and extracting money from, the University.


UNIVERSITY NOW RUN BY "ACADEMIC RULES"

4. (SBU) Baghdadi believes he has succeeded in returning
reputable faculty and administrators to a position of control
in daily operations. He described the University as once
again being an institution run "by academic rules, not by
Qagain being an institution run "by academic rules, not by
religious or political rules." He pointed to the absence of
religious signs inside the campus (although still prevalent
outside), something he said was accepted even by Jaysh Al
Mahdi (JAM) for the sake of academic integrity, and to the
firing of as many as 50 staff members for corruption. He
indicated that salaries going to "ghost employees" had been
one mechanism for siphoning off the University,s limited
budget. He described security within the University as
"good," with "risks down 80 percent from 2008." Baghdadi
admitted, however, that risks still exist and that his
ability to effect immediate change is limited by the danger
involved. His strategy is to reduce the authority of radical
religious figures as much as possible, and eliminate them
over time. He described 2010 as a "test year" to see if the
University can truly be returned to the stature it occupied
before 2003, and especially before 1990.


FIVE-YEAR PLAN FOR UNIVERSITY REFORM

5. (SBU) Baghdadi has presented a five-year plan to the

BAGHDAD 00000193 002.2 OF 002


Prime Minister to return the University to academic
prominence, but he has more immediate needs. To strengthen
the legitimacy of the new administration and undermine the
control of religious groups, Baghdadi wants to show students
tangible signs of progress now. To that end, he asked for
U.S. military financial assistance with several projects. He
prioritized these as renovating the central library,
upgrading laboratories and rehabilitating classrooms.
Baghdadi also mentioned improvements in common areas such as
the cafeteria, student center and gardens. In a subsequent
meeting, he clarified that his current budget is only USD 100
million, when he needed as much as USD 250 million.
Two-thirds of the current budget goes to salaries and the
remainder to maintenance and some equipment; none goes to
capital improvements. (NOTE: The ePRT will follow up with
Baghdadi in the coming weeks to see how the ePRT, Embassy's
PAS or brigade might be able to assist. END NOTE.)


STUDENTS NOT YET EXCITED ABOUT ELECTIONS

6. (SBU) The University held a meeting with students
December 30 to discuss voting and other avenues of
involvement in the March elections. The faculty is also
preparing a pamphlet on the elections for the student body.
Baghdadi and a colleague were not optimistic about strong
student participation in the upcoming elections. They
predicted that voter participation overall would be between
40 to 55 percent, with the electorate falling into three
categories: those "manipulated by religious sects" who will
vote as directed by religious leaders; educated elites
disappointed with the al-Maliki government who will vote for
change in a secular direction; and a plurality who will not
vote because they are disillusioned with the political
process and do not believe that even a change in government
will bring about a change in living conditions.

HILL

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