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Expelling Saddam: with Iraq's dictator out of power, schools are removing his image and propaganda from their books and lessons.

When Iraqi children returned to school this fall, they no longer saw Saddam Hussein's portrait in their classrooms or started the day chanting about his long and heroic struggle against the devil that is America.

But new Saddam-free textbooks, without reverential references to the former dictator or his Baath political party, were still being printed. So students had a special exercise to begin the school year: ripping out all the images of Saddam, page by page, and drawing lines through the paragraphs about him and his party.

"We want the exercise to teach students and teachers that the days of fear are finished," says Fuad Hussein, an adviser to the Ministry of Education, who has been supervising the de-Baathication of every textbook, from first-grade readers to high-school physics texts.

The first-grade Iraqi equivalents of Dick and Jane are Hassan and Amal, shown in one prewar reader happily holding a portrait of Saddam. Their dialogue begins with Amal saying, "Come, Hassan, let us chant for the homeland and use our pens to write, 'Our beloved Saddam.'"

Hassan then replies: "I came in a hurry to chant, 'Oh, Saddam, our courageous President, we are all soldiers defending the borders for you, carrying weapons and marching to success.'"

Saddam's touch was heaviest in history--where students learned that Iraq's wars were all just and ended victoriously--and in a class called Patriotic Education, which has been eliminated. But nothing escaped his influence. Fuad Hussein says his committee of Iraqis reviewed 560 textbooks and recommended changes in every one. The de-Baathicized books, prepared by U.N. agencies using U.S. funds, were to include nothing new in substance and simply leave blank pages where material was cut.


In the old books, geography is taught with maps showing an Arab homeland with no trace of Israel. Science books include Saddam's pronouncements mixed among the laws of nature. Even mathematics had its political side: Students learned arithmetic by adding 4 + 28 because April 28 is Saddam's birthday (an occasion once celebrated with cakes and dancing during four-hour-long parties at schools). Students learned their multiplication tables by computing the casualty count of shooting down tour American planes with three crew members each.

"We had to include him in every lesson plan or we'd be in trouble with the Baath Party," says Nada al-Jalili, an elementary school teacher at the Tigris School for Girls in Baghdad. "When we taught about bacteria in biology class, we explained that Saddam brought antibacterial soap and drugs into Iraq. Whenever his name was mentioned, it had be followed with 'God protect him and keep him our President.'"

Whenever an adult entered the classroom, the students would stand up and recite in unison, "Long live the leader Saddam Hussein." The typical school day used to begin with chants against America for killing Iraqi children and burning Iraqi trees.

In gym classes, students would exercise while chanting, "Bush, Bush, listen clearly: We all love Saddam." During a flag-raising ceremony every Thursday morning, students would chant "Saddam Hussein!" "One Arab nation with an eternal message!" and "Unity! Freedom! Socialism!" Then a teacher or an older student would fire a round of blanks from an AK-47 rifle. "The rifle terrified the younger girls," recalls Widad al-Atia, headmistress of the Tigris School.


After Hussein's fall, some teachers and students celebrated by ripping his pictures from their textbooks. Rand Amir, a fifth-grader in Baghdad, says her classmates threw the pages out a window while yelling, "Bye-bye, Saddam."

"Those lessons about Saddam were so boring and stupid, but we had no choice," she says. "Anybody who laughed would be punished."

Some teachers, though, had a harder time saying farewell. When Fuad Hussein and his committee started reviewing the textbooks, he recalls, one teacher balked during the first session.

"She was supposed to draw a line through a photograph of Saddam to show the printer what to remove," he says. "But when she put her pen at the corner of the picture she couldn't bring herself to make the line. I said, 'Don't be afraid, bring the line down.' She went halfway and stopped. I ordered her again, and finally she made it all the way. She looked up and said, 'I can't believe I was able to do that.'"


* What are the drawbacks of linking patriotism to a single leader?

* How would you describe education in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule?

* What accounts for the behavior of the teacher who initially balked at drawing a line through a photo of Saddam?


To help students understand how Saddam used Iraqi schools to teach students to equate patriotism with his rule and how school books are being revised to remove his influence.


CRITICAL THINKING/DISCUSSION: Students should understand that the focus on Saddam Hussein in Iraqi texts was not just an ego massage for the leader. Rather, the ultimate goal of the texts was political indoctrination to build and preserve support for the regime. Direct students' attention to the Iraqi version of Dick and Jane and the chanting in gym class and at the Thursday flag raisings. Ask: What might have happened to students or teachers who did not go along with the ritual? Is it difficult to stand out when everyone else is chanting or performing some act of group patriotism?

REWRITING HISTORY: Tell students that in addition to removing Saddam from textbooks and lessons, the Iraqi commission producing the new texts is removing controversial issues. Missing from the new textbooks is any mention of the 1991 Gulf War resulting from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), and references to Americans, Israelis and Iraq's Kurdish minority. Have students discuss this strategy. Is it a good idea to remove controversy from school textbooks? How might the removal of history and controversy affect Iraqi students' view of the world today and in the future?

POINT OF VIEW: Tell students that conflicts over school textbooks are not restricted to Iraq. School texts usually present the point of view of history and politics that is general]y accepted in a country. For example, many American and Chinese students learn about Japanese treachery and torture during World War II. However, Japanese students learned a much milder account of their military's behavior. Only after international protest did the school system begin to revise the textbooks.

WEB WATCH: For news of events in Iraq from the U.S. government's perspective, go to the U.S. State Department at

John Tierney, a correspondent in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, recently spent several months on assignment in Baghdad.
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Author:Tierney, John
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Dec 8, 2003
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