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West Point professors lecture in Baghdad
( 2004-01-17 14:12) (Agencies)

To the U.S. Army, flying eight West Point professors to lecture at Baghdad University was a chance to showcase the military's scholarly and humanitarian credentials.

For the Iraqi students and professors in attendance, the lectures smacked of education at the wrong end of an M-16.

"We don't want them inside our university or inside our country," said Fuad Hamdan, 24, a political science student, watching as U.S. troops frisked those entering the lecture hall.

This week's series of guest lectures from the U.S. Military Academy turned out to be another example of what the U.S. Army considers its good works being misunderstood by those living under its occupation.

Although the lecturers were unarmed, their American security escorts carried M-16s into the classroom. Students and professors complained to a reporter afterward about the presence of armed occupation troops on the grounds of a center of learning.

"I can't stand it when they put their guns in my face," said a woman professor who asked that her name not be used. "This is a university, not a battlefield."

The woman professor sat through a lecture Wednesday on recent trends in political science from Col. Robert Gordon, who directs West Point's American Politics department. The Iraqi professor said she found Gordon's material divorced from Iraq's reality.

More relevant, she said, would have been an academic discussion on Americans' views of Arabs, a popular topic on this campus of 40,000 that sprawls across a thumb of land bordered by the Tigris River.

"We don't have anything against Americans, but we don't like the Zionist ideas they use against us," said Ahmed Qasim, a political science professor at the university.

Army Brig. Gen. Dan Kaufman, West Point's silver-haired academic dean, acknowledged that university students are a tough audience anywhere, especially in a proud country chafing under military occupation.

"It's nothing new. American college kids don't like soldiers on their campuses either," said Kaufman, wearing desert camouflage fatigues as he stood near a hand-painted banner demanding an "end to the occupation."

"Intellectual freedom means you get what you get. We regard that as a victory," he said. "They're free to criticize."

The Army also acknowledged that firebrand college students are among their most virulent potential enemies. Bringing them face to face with some of the U.S. military's top professors, the Army hopes, will temper the influence of the inevitable campus radicals.

Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, a deputy commander of the Army's 1st Armored Division, said the lectures were born in a division brainstorming session on winning the minds of potential recruits for the guerrilla cells currently mounting attacks in Baghdad. Former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party are thought to make up most of those cells.

"We asked ourselves, 'Where could the recruits come from that would buy into the jihad mentality or the former Baath mentality?'" Hertling said. "Then, as a pre-emptive counter, we decided to start engaging them."

The Army's counterinsurgency effort at Baghdad University also extends to rebuilding women students' dorms, installing a computer lab donated by Saudi Arabia and contributing 14 tons of used West Point textbooks, Hertling said.

But the rebuilding successes relentlessly touted by Americans were spurned by Iraqis bitter about the state of postwar Baghdad, where phones don't work, daily blackouts darken swaths of the city and garbage-choked streets have been carved up by blast barriers and razor wire.

"The Americans haven't changed anything since they arrived in the country, so how are a few lectures going to help?" asked Enaas Jihad, 25. "You Americans managed to bring your tanks here by airplane very quickly. Can't you do anything about the electricity?"

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