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Iraqi Schools Reopen, Late             10/22 06:22

   BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraqi students went back to school on Wednesday amid 
tightened security as the academic year began a month late because thousands of 
people displaced by last summer's onslaught by the Islamic State group had 
taken shelter in school buildings.

   In the areas of northern and western Iraq captured by the extremist group 
earlier this year -- including the country's second largest city Mosul -- 
students are not required to attend classes, but will be able to watch lectures 
on state-run TV to prepare for final exams, Education Ministry spokeswoman 
Salama al-Hassan said.

   She told The Associated Press only a few schools are still occupied by 
displaced families and that authorities have set up trailers to be used as 
classrooms. She could not provide a specific number for the students, but said 
around nine million attended classes last year.

   More than 1.8 million people have been uprooted from their homes by the 
militants' advance, with many sheltering in schools, mosques and abandoned 
buildings. Last month authorities decided to delay school by a month in order 
to provide alternate housing arrangements.

   In Baghdad's eastern Zayona neighborhood, hundreds of students in blue and 
white uniforms stood in lines in the school yard, chanting the national anthem 
and shouting "long live Iraq" before heading into their classes.

   The road leading to Konous elementary school was closed with razor wire as 
four policemen stood guard, highlighting security concerns in a city that has 
seen near-daily attacks by insurgents.

   "We are happy to receive and see our students again after this extraordinary 
delay," said Nawal al-Mihamadawi, the school principal. "The security measures 
we have taken are enough to secure the school and the students."

   She said that authorities decided to cancel the Saturday holiday for schools 
to help the staff make up for the delay. "Classes and teachers are ready," she 
said.

   But the security situation still worries some parents.

   "Considering the current bad security situation, we thought that the school 
year would never start, but thank God, my girl is attending classes today," 
Omar Abdul-Wahab, 24, said as he accompanied his daughter to school.

   Iraq's schools closed during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion but opened weeks 
after the fall of Baghdad and operated normally even during the worst of the 
sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007.

   Early last month, the Islamic State group set new rules for students and 
teachers in the areas it controls in Iraq and Syria and abolished classes about 
history, literature, music and Christianity. It also declared patriotic songs 
blasphemous and ordered certain pictures torn out of textbooks.

   The militant group declared the start of the academic year on Sept. 9, but 
no students have shown up.

   The group later announced the establishment of the "Islamic State Education 
Diwan" to oversee the schools and introduce the new curriculum.

   It stipulated that any reference to the republics of Iraq or Syria be 
replaced with "Islamic State." Pictures that violate its ultra-conservative 
interpretation of Islam must be ripped out of books. And anthems and lyrics 
that encourage love of country are now viewed as a show of "polytheism and 
blasphemy," and are strictly banned.

   The new curriculum even went so far as to explicitly ban the teaching of 
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution --- which was not previously taught in 
Iraqi schools.

   Abu Abdullah, a physician in Mosul who asked that his full name not be used 
for fear of retribution, said he did not send his three sons to school because 
he did not want them to be indoctrinated by the extremist group.

   "I am sad to see my sons not able to continue their studies. They are 
missing a school year because of the political and sectarian struggle in the 
country," he said.

   Asma Ghanim, a 38-year old Mosul resident who fled when the militants 
overran the city in June, managed to register her daughter in Konous school 
after settling in her parents' house in Zayona.

   Ghanim expressed hope that her daughter would have a successful school year 
in Baghdad after "leaving everything behind in Mosul."


(KA)


 
 
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