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I Was a Professor at the Horribly Corrupt American University of Iraq... Until the Neocons Fired Me

Horror stories from the graft-ridden American University of Iraq campus in Kurdistan.

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So we let Mitchell browbeat us in this ridiculous memo; there was nothing we could do.

It was the students who really responded to Mitchell effectively. And they did it by saying nothing at all. According to everything that Agresto and Mitchell told us, those students, indoctrinated in civic duty by the likes of Bill Bennett (who began his career in public service by informing on his Harvard roommates for smoking pot), our students should have fallen over themselves to turn in the anti-freedom thug who posted that threat.

Mitchell, naturally, sent the students a memo to encourage them to inform -- an unintentionally comic mixture of bluster and threats with patronizing instruction in the norms of “civility”:


This past Thursday, April 22, a faculty member received a written Death Threat [sic] taped to her AUI-S office door…

Any student who has knowledge about this Threat is expected to come to my office before 4 PM on Monday afternoon.  If you do not come forward,and I later discover that you had any knowledge of this, you will be immediately and permanently expelled from AUI-S.  If you do come to my office with the name or names of the person or persons responsible, you will be pardoned and allowed to stay at AUI-S…

Until further notice, every single student and guest coming on campus will be padded down, and whatever bags you carry will be fully inspected.

This is an American University.  We grant you liberties that you do not have at other universities here in Iraq.  In return, we expect much.  Most notably, we expect decency and civility in all that you do.  One or more of your classmates has now violated those terms.  As a consequence, all of you will be affected for the rest of the school year and beyond.  Do not forget that with liberty comes responsibility.

[The memo continues with a warning about what Dr. Agresto, then away from AUIS, will do when he gets back -- a variant of the old “wait till your father gets home!” theme.]


Joshua Mitchell
Acting Chancellor
The American University of Iraq – Sulaimani"

Mitchell expected this bombardment of gravitas to shock and awe our apprentice-Westerner students into rushing to his office, begging forgiveness and spelling out the culprit’s name in neon.

It didn’t happen. I’m betting that every student at AUIS knew who’d posted the death threat. But not one said a word. When they could be persuaded to discuss the matter at all, they shrugged contemptuously, clearly regarding this as a silly fuss, a lot of Gringo nonsense. And they were notably lacking in sympathy for Natali.

Mitchell and Agresto reacted to this great disappointment like Bush and Cheney to the insurrection: first they simply lied, saying that “we” were making great progress on the case.

After several weeks, when it was clear no one was going to come forward, Mitchell and Agresto simply dropped the subject. In the end, they settled for offering Natali very concrete reassurance: they constructed a huge blast wall just outside her office. The wall was a source of great amusement to our students; this was Iraq, and they were not impressed by walls -- especially when one of the collective punishment/humiliations imposed on them for not informing was to have to go around to the back door.

Natali returned to her job after a few weeks. The job was her life; she had nowhere else to go; and the real risk was probably very small. If the death threat really had come from a student, it was unlikely to be carried out; our students were more serious than Americans of the same age, but Suli was not a very violent city; it was as if the Kurds had had enough of violence, and wanted a peaceful life for once. Natali faced a simple calculation: make a lot of money by facing a very minor threat, of go back to America -- the most frightening place on earth for someone without money or a job.

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