On arrival at Ramadi University in Anbar province, professors, students and visitors are all required to park their cars at least one kilometer away from the university and walk the rest of the distance. Cars have
Even, however, as security threats remain, Anbar province has seen a significant improvement in security conditions over the last year and Ramadi University is now seeing new life. Having been abandoned by professors and students alike as a result of the violence of recent years, many are now returning and the academic centre which was founded in 1987 is seeking to revive former achievements.
Twenty-one year old Ahmed Alwan is one student who has returned. The computer studies student, who used to have to carry computer programming CDs under his clothes in fear of fundamentalist groups, fled the university two years ago when the risks became too great.
“I used to hide the CDs as if I was hiding a dangerous weapon. Al-Qaeda banned the sale of CDs and burned all shops selling them claiming that these shops were destroying the Muslim community,” he said.
Ahmed described the conditions of Anbar University in those days as extremely tense and dangerous. “Armed groups forced all female students to wear veils covering the entire face; professors and students started growing their beards for fear of al-Jihad and the al-Tawhid Organization of al-Qaeda which infiltrated the different university departments to watch the behavior of male and female students.”
However, as a result of the tribal awakening coalition, which was formed in September 2006 and which defeated the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’, relative security has returned to the region and students have begun returning to the university to complete their studies.
Ahmed says it is the significant improvement in security which has drawn him back.
“With the improvement in the security situation, I returned back with my family and was even surprised to see CD stores opened even till the evening hours,” he said.
According to Hamid Miz’el, the Secretary General of the university council, student life is now returning to normal. “The conditions of Anbar University are very good compared to the past and life has returned,” he said. “There are now around 14,000 students… in the various disciplines, and the number of students attending classes is high.” The university has 16 faculties, offering a variety of studies including medicine, law, engineering, literature and Quranic studies.
Yet, as a result of a number of militant attacks upon the university, significant reconstruction is still required. One student, Yousef Muhammad, for instance, complained that the lack of university accommodation is a real issue for many students. And while, male students can rent houses, female students are restricted by social conventions that prevent them from living by themselves. As a result some female students are being pressured to stop their studies.
“My parents want me to stop going to the university if I don’t find a room in the dorms. Renting a house is not an option and I have to wait until I get a vacant room in the dorms,” said twenty-two year old Hadiyah Dahham who lives 160 km away from the university.
But, Imad Abdul-Rahman al-Hiti, director of scientific and graduate studies, says that the “problems… are minor compared to the conditions witnessed by the country since the fall of the regime,” adding that the university can look forward to “a dramatic expansion in construction in all colleges, departments and dormitories.”
At the same time the Council of Ministers has approved the construction of a new university in Fallujha, which will ease the pressure on Ramadi University while facilitating access for more students.
While progress is evident, no one is taking security for granted. Tight restrictions, such as the banning of cars, remain in place.
“This procedure is necessary to prevent attacks by terrorists inside the university despite the fact that there are currently stable security conditions,” said Dr. Miz’el.