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Iraqi Officials Influenced by Report

Investigative report prompts education ministry to amend its new religious education curriculum.

An Iraqi education ministry official said an IWPR Iraq special report on sectarianism in the new religious education curriculum has prompted a review of its content.

IWPR’s in-depth report Iraqi School Books Criticised for Sectarian Bias, included interviews with leaders, educators and parents who said they were alarmed that the curriculum might be fueling sectarian views in the classroom.

Senior education ministry officials said that after reading the IWPR Iraq special report they “decided to drop anything from the new [religious education] curriculum that will hurt a specific sect or religion” and to create a separate curriculum for Christian students.

“We have to take into account [IWPR’s] report,” said Ghazi Mutlak, director-general of the education ministry’s curricula department. “We changed some of our views, and decided to more thoroughly investigate this important matter, which directly impacts people.”

The controversial school books have been pulled from some schools, and new textbooks for Christian students to enable them to learn about their faith are in development.

Islam has long been taught in Iraq’s schools, and until the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 reflected the beliefs of the then-powerful minority Sunni sect.

The curriculum has been gradually amended over the past six years by the education ministry. Critics of the current religious education curriculum, including senior Sunni leaders, said it favours the Shia interpretation of Islam – a highly sensitive issue in Iraq as the country attempts to overcome years of sectarian strife.

Critics also said the curriculum did not offer clarity about Islamic concepts that might have violent connotations.

Education ministry officials said the curriculum had been under review and that ministry officials were influenced by IWPR’s story.

“This report helps the educational process in the Iraqi society and supports the ministry’s goal in writing non-sectarian books, an issue the ministry is working hard to accomplish. This will solve the sectarian problem that some said existed in the previous [school] books,” Mutlak said.

Mutlak praised IWPR for creating a “very important” story that was “neutral and independent”.

“We need such reports to highlight certain problems that officials unintentionally forget,” he said.

Alaa Makki, who chairs the parliamentary committee that oversees the education ministry’s performance, said when he was interviewed for the report, “I knew that there was a new Islamic curriculum, but even though we serve on parliament’s education committee I knew nothing about [the controversy highlighted by IWPR].

“I followed up on the issue by speaking with the ministry of education. I asked them to pull the copies [of the new school books] distributed in some schools in Baghdad,” he said.

“We are working hard now to improve curricula for all Iraqis, not only for Islamic books but for the other books.”

Mutlak said the ministry had created a committee of education experts and non-governmental organisations to evaluate and propose amendments for the curricula.

He also praised the IWPR report for upholding high journalistic standards.

“Having such a thorough report from Iraq makes me optimistic,” he said. “I didn’t think that people in Iraq could do such stories.”

Abeer Mohammed is IWPR’s senior local editor in Baghdad.

For more information, please contact the IWPR Managing Editor