The Iraqi government signed three memoranda of understanding with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura made an official visit to Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamel Al-Maliki received Matsuura, along with UNESCO special envoy Sheikha Moza Bint Naser Al-Masnad and their accompanying delegation, at his official headquarters.
A governmental statement indicated that during the meeting, three memoranda of understanding were signed with UNESCO by the ministers of education, higher education, and culture.
Al-Maliki stated that Iraq is keen on working with UNESCO, given that Iraq’s history is a source of encouragement for the country to become a modern state. Iraq’s ancient civilizations include the Sumerians and the Babylonians.
Al-Maliki believes that his country is currently experiencing security stability, which encouraged the government to focus on the scientific sector. Recently, the government decided to send thousands of students to study at international universities.
Al-Maliki also disclosed that the Iraqi government has projects to build modern schools. He noted that the construction of schools was halted in the past, due to the former regime’s misguided policies and wars. He also indicated that the government plans to incorporate advanced scientific methods and develop professional education and universities in Iraq.
For his part, Matsuura stressed the importance of the memoranda that his organization signed with Iraq. He told journalists, “The signed memoranda of understanding are a good example of the strong cooperation and good relations between Iraq and UNESCO.”
He added, “The first memorandum pertains to the establishment of an archaeological institute in Samarra, while the second applies to the reconstruction of the great mosque, also in Samarra. The third memorandum deals with collaboration between UNESCO and the Iraqi government to eliminate illiteracy.”
For her part Sheikha Moza Bint Naser shed light on UNESCO’s most important projects in Iraq. She said, “There are eight important projects at a cost of $40 million. Partners in this project include UNESCO, the State of Qatar, the World Bank, and others.”
She added, “These projects include devising Iraqi curricula and rehabilitating Iraqi universities, especially colleges of medicine. We understand that there is a shortage of Iraqi doctors. In addition, we are trying to implement a project to eliminate illiteracy.”
Sheikha Moza Bint Naser also noted that UNESCO is fully prepared to help support the scientific and cultural movement in Iraq. She added that Iraq has been a cradle of civilization, culture, literature, and art throughout history.
Members of the visiting delegation expressed the preparedness of UNESCO to continue its collaboration with Iraq in the areas of education, culture, training of scientific, cultural and academic personnel, and the reopening of cultural centers.
Without a doubt, UNESCO’s collaboration with Iraq on supporting the cultural and educational sectors is ongoing. The Education Management Information Systems (EMIS) is currently being implemented, with the program being tested and being used to record educational data. UNESCO also supplied the Ministry of Education with computers and other information technology equipment at a cost of $1.2 million. Furthermore, UNESCO updated, printed, and distributed nine million textbooks to Iraqi students, and trained 30,000 teachers, and developers of school curricula and educational programs. UNESCO also established a network to train teachers to teach in Iraq and supplied twelve selected colleges with laboratory equipment at a cost of $3.2 million. Moreover, UNESCO provided three Iraqi universities with engineering supplies at a cost of $1.4 million. Finally, four main university libraries were provided with reference books at a total cost of $700,000.
In the area of communication and information systems, UNESCO is helping Iraq to devise a national policy for media and communications that reinforces freedom of expression. UNESCO is doing this via a series of programs to build capacities in the Iraqi media sector.
As for culture, UNESCO added the ancient city of Samarra to the world heritage list in 2007. Samarra was previously an Islamic capital and is home to a ninth century mosque and the Malwiya Minaret. Prior to this, the list included three important Iraqi sites, among them the city of Hatra, which was added in 1985, and the ancient city of Assur, added in 2003.
The three new memoranda will serve to strengthen Iraq’s pursuits in the areas of culture, science, and education. In addition, the memoranda demonstrate the country’s great interest in its heritage and antiquities, as one of the documents pertains to the establishment of a college of archaeology in Samarra.