New Books for Iraqi Universities

Since the establishment of Sabre's Book Donation Program in the late 1980s, the Foundation has gained a reputation for getting educational materials into "difficult" places, often countries emerging from or engaged in conflict. Examples include the Sabre programs in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia. The most recently-established initiative, however, presents a formidable set of challenges, as Sabre strives to enhance the libraries and classrooms of universities in Iraq (particularly in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq). The situation facing these institutions is comprehensively outlined in Iraqi Libraries and Archives in Peril: Survival in a Time of Invasion, Chaos, and Civil Conflict, A Report, researched and written by Jeff Spurr, Sabre Advisory Committee Member and Islamic and Middle East Specialist, Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University. (This report will be available online shortly at the IraqCrisis website hosted by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.)

Sabre Foundation's work in Iraq began with a grant from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), an organization funded by Congress that strives to prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, and to promote post-conflict stability and development across the globe. Sabre was tasked with providing collections of books in three subject areas - constitutional design, multi-ethnic/multi-religious countries, and truth and reconciliation processes - to Iraqi university libraries. Sabre initially envisioned the USIP-funded project as part of a larger plan, which was developed by the Harvard Committee on Iraqi Libraries in collaboration with Sabre to distribute educational materials (both purchased and donated) in Iraq over a three-year period. As conditions on the ground in Iraq deteriorated, however, implementation of the USIP-funded project was significantly slowed and sources for funding a larger program looked increasingly uncertain. An unexpected turn came in late 2005 when Michael Masterson, then Economics Advisor at the Mosul office of the US Embassy, contacted Sabre saying that the University of Mosul was interested in a shipment of new books on a variety of subjects. Following resolution of the considerable logistical and security issues, a container of more than 12,000 new books, predominantly in the areas of science and medicine, was shipped via Turkey and through the Zakho Pass into Iraq in late 2006, with Sabre's costs being covered by the university itself.

With the success of that first shipment, the ground was laid for an expanded and ongoing Sabre program focusing on Kurdistan. Sabre's interlocutor with Iraqi universities, Dr. Ekhlass A. Jarjees, Entomologist & Manager of the Hawaii-Iraq Education Partnership at the University of Hawaii, facilitated a partnership with the Kurdistan Reconstruction Organization (KRO). KRO is a well-established NGO engaged in humanitarian relief and reconstruction, recognized as such by agencies like the UN and UNESCO. It has been engaged, since shortly after the first Gulf War, in helping to rebuild northern Iraq.

A second Sabre shipment to Iraq arrived in Erbil on August 12, 2007, carrying books and CD-ROMs for three universities - Salahaddin, Sulaimani and Koya - and a number of institutes run by the Foundation for Technical Education. A third container, destined for Dohuk University, was sent out in June 2007. This shipment also included two "mirror sites" (hard drives) provided by MIT's OpenCourseWare for Mosul and Dohuk universities. OpenCourseWare is a large-scale, Web-based electronic publishing site providing free, searchable access to syllabi and other materials for all of MIT's undergraduate courses, available to educators, students, and self-learners around the world. Also in 2007, the USIP-funded shipment of 21 library collection sets, comprising a total of about 1,500 books, was successfully delivered to Baghdad, along with corresponding classification card sets and spine labels (and their electronic equivalents) prepared by OCLC (Online Computer Library Center). The books and classification sets are being distributed to 20 university libraries throughout Iraq, as well as to the National Library and Archive by the Baghdad-based Al-Sharaka Program, an experienced partner organization that previously worked with the University of Oklahoma on an USAID-funded HEAD program (Higher Education and Development Program).

To date, Sabre has shipped more than 35,000 new books, selected by Iraqi universities, with a fair market value of well over two million dollars. Thanks to the range of donating US publishers and the resulting breadth of Sabre's inventory, these shipments have included not only basic core texts in the sciences, medicine, humanities and social sciences but also more specialized - but equally much needed - materials. The region's university libraries now hold copies, for example, of "Building Change of Use: Renovating, Adapting, and Altering Commercial, Institutional, and Industrial Properties"; "Water Supply Systems Security"; and "Animal Sciences: The Biology, Care and Production of Domestic Animals." An August 2007 front page article in the Chronicle of Higher Education focusing on the Kurdish universities in Iraq notes that,

"Faculty training and equipment are 30 years out of date, international donors are hesitant to become involved in a region so close to the bloodshed Wrecked furniture and broken air-conditioning units line the paint-stripped hallways of the squat buildings of Salahaddin University. Its musty library, like those of most Kurdish universities, is filled with books from the 1970s and 80s."

Chronicle of Higher Education
, 08/17/07

Thanks to Sabre's lack of hesitation to support institutions like Salahaddin University, allied to the financial support of the Kurdistan Regional Government, these universities now have access to up-to-date textbooks and reference materials.