The future of one of Iraq’s most prestigious universities may be in the hands of local gangs.
Mustansiriya University in Baghdad was temporarily closed last week due to escalating violence allegedly caused by an aggressive student-organized gang.
“Political parties are causing some of the problems,” Iraqi Minister of Higher Education Abed Thiab al-Ajili said to The New York Times. “I’m facing a difficult task dealing with these problems with the parties, but I am fighting.”
The group, called the Students League, has been accused of raping, torturing and murdering students, professors and administrators. Many students and faculty sought unsuccessfully to ban the group from the school’s campus.
The decision to close the university came last week after Abdullah al-Bayati, a professor at the school, was assaulted and beaten by the group.
After the attack, Bayati visited Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s office in Baghdad, still wearing his bloodstained and torn clothes.
Maliki, a Mustansiriya alumnus, ordered that the school close the next day.
Maliki advisor Ali al-Mousawi said that prior to Bayati’s incident, there had been insufficient evidence to ban the group from the school.
“There were suspicions about many student groups, but there was no proof until the case of Dr. Bayati,” Mousawi said to The New York Times. “It was a confirmed incident with evidence, so the prime minister made the decision.”
The Students League may be a splinter group of the armed factions that caused much of the sectarian violence throughout Iraq in 2007.
During the unrest in Baghdad, militias of Shia engineering, literature and law students, joined by faculty members and campus guards, seized partial control of the school’s campus.
To limit the threat to Mustansiriya students, faculty and staff, a 12-foot blast wall was constructed around the perimeter of the school.
Since the beginning of the violence in 2007, a total of 335 students and staff members have been injured or killed in bombings on campus.