A New Iraqi Curricula

To counter indoctrination, the Ministry of Education’s General Curriculum Directorate, in partnership with external bodies that included UNESCO and USAID, established a committee for curriculum development to review and revise different curricula. The committee, chosen by the US, was comprised of Iraqi educators and education experts from across Iraq’s sectarian and religious lines, who consulted with other local leaders in education, particularly Islamic education (Hadithi, 2010). The endeavor to provide Iraq’s 16,000 schools with revised study materials began with the removal of all images of Saddam Hussein and Baath content from textbooks.  A subsequent step involved the introduction of new material that would promote tolerance, respect, and appreciation for a pluralistic Iraqi society by recognizing its religious and ethnic components rather than discounting them (See: A New History of Iraq).

In a broad sense, the prevalence of abstract concepts of tolerance in the Saddam-era curriculum was likely a factor in the decision to continue the use of some old textbooks, with revisions, in the new curriculum (this is especially the case with regard to Islamic studies). A significant shift, however, is evident in the new curriculum with regard to specific Iraqi social groups, which were conspicuously ignored in the Saddam-era textbooks. Revised civics, social studies, and history texts teach students about Iraq’s “ethnic and religious diversity,” (Sixth grade Social Studies, p. 14) mentioning different Iraqi ethnic and religious groups by name, such as Kurds, Turkmen, Yazidis, Sabians, and Christians (Seventh grade Civics, p.8). While Saddam-era textbooks also mention Christians, they do so only in the context of ancient Islamic history and Jesus as a Muslim prophet. Jews, despite having been a significant component of Iraqi society for centuries, are mentioned in a limited sense in both old and new curricula, in the context of relations with Mohammad in ancient Islamic history and with regard to the Zionist movement and Palestine (See: iraqicurricula.org).

Updated maps in the new curriculum serve to teach students about Iraq’s pluralistic character by highlighting the country’s different provinces and indicating the ethnic communities living within them. The two maps below appear in fourth grade social studies textbooks. In the exercise that accompanies them, students are asked to “Name the number of provinces (you) see” (Fourth grade Social Studies, p. 14).

Maps used prior to 2010, on the other hand, reflect typical Baath pan-Arab ideology, and have minimal indications of regional differences within the country. Iraq itself is rarely depicted as an independent geographic and political entity. Students are taught that divisions within Iraq are a consequence of colonialism, and that it is “the colonialists’ goal to divide the Iraqi community and encourage sectarianism” (Al-tarbiya al-wataniya lil-saff al-awal al-mutawasat, Iraqi Ministry of Education, 2002). The maps below, titled, “Map of the Arab nation,” appear in an eighth grade civics textbook. The only map in the same book that includes Iraqi borders is one titled “The expansionist ambitions of the Zionists in the Arab world” (Al-tarbiya al-wataniya lil-saff al-thani al-mutawasat, Iraqi Ministry of Education, 1999, p.11, 17).

The following excerpts from the new curriculum’s primary and secondary civics and social studies textbooks highlight efforts to teach students about the country’s Kurdish population. The lessons stress Kurdish loyal to the larger Iraqi community:

“The Kurds are the second largest group in Iraq…The have lived in harmony with Arabs since ancient times…They have defended Iraq and live as brothers united by love for it” (Seventh grade Civics, p. 15).

الاكراد يمثلوم المرتبة الثانية بعد العرب من حيث عدد السكان...وقد عاش الاكراد منذ القدم متاخين مع العرب...دفاعا عن العراق وهم يعيسون متحابيين متاخين يجمعهم حب العراق.

“The majority of Iraq’s residents have an Arab identity both in terms of their history and civilization…in addition to the presence of different national identities such as the Kurds, whose virtuous Iraqi citizenship unifies them” (Sixth grade Social Studies, p. 12).

لغالبية سكان العراق هوية عربية تاريخية وحضارية ...فضلا ان وجود قومية أخرى كردية, مكونات اخرى, تجمعهم المواطنة العراقية الصالحة.

Thus, tolerance of religious and sectarian diversity, while being a goal in of itself, is also the basis for a unified, stable Iraq.  Within this context, the role of the individual is to support the nation. Religious and sectarian distinctions often serve in civics and social studies lessons to teach the importance of solidarity between different groups. Each citizen, along with each distinct ethnic or religious component of Iraqi society, is responsible for protecting the nation and fostering harmony within it.  The excerpts below are from the new curriculum’s seventh grade civics textbook.

“Despite the fact that different (Iraqi) factions were subjected to injustice and abuse, they held fast to their love for their country and its cohesion” (Seventh grade Civics,  p. 18).

... وعلى الرغم من كل ما تعرضت له (الاطياف) من ظلم وتعسف ظلت متماسكة بحب وطنها العراق ووحدتها...

“National unity means the adherence of individuals to their society’s shared goals in order to protect such cohesion, by such means as defending the homeland…regardless of ethnic or religious diversity, or differing opinions” (Seventh grade Civics,  p. 19).

Next: Tolerance, Nationalism, and Islam