Efforts to improving education in Iraq’s education system have included a broad revision plan for the nation’s pre-university curriculum. Textbooks currently used in schools throughout the country are the result of an ongoing revision process, which began after the US removed Saddam Hussein from power in 2003. Education experts embarked on a massive endeavor to review and update the national curricula in all subjects, removing its Baathist content along with the anti-Western and anti-Semitic material with which it was wrought. In its place, new material on human rights, diversity, and tolerance were to be introduced. A more balanced view of Islam that included both Shiite and Sunni interpretations would also be presented, replacing what was exclusively Sunni content under Saddam Hussein.
The old curriculum was replete with Baathist pan-Arab and socialist propaganda and glorifications of Saddam Hussein. Students were drilled about the importance of loyalty to “the leadership of ‘the Party’ and the revolution,” (Tarbiyya Wataniyya Saf Chamis Ibtidaiya, 2001, p. 29) and statements such as the one below, taken from a fifth grade civics textbook, were common:
“The Revolutionary government led by our party, the Baath Socialist Arab party, headed by our president and leader Saddam Hussein—may Allah protect him—emanated from the people who work for its good.”
Baathist socialism was also a focus of the texts. Eight graders were taught that “national resources must be freed from exploitive foreign control and redistributed justly between citizens on the basis of their efforts, abilities, and needs” (Tarbiya Wataniya Lil Saff Al Thani El Mutawasat, 1999, p. 20). Textbooks were replete with images glorifying Saddam Hussein such as those below, where Saddam is shown working at a “National Harvesting Campaign” (left) and where a group of children march with his picture (right).
Despite the proclaimed secularism of Baathist ideology, Islam was often used to endorse it. Quotes from the Quran were interspersed throughout lessons highlighting Baath principles. A lesson instructing students to limit their materialistic consumption for the sake of their country and nation (umma) is accompanied by the Quranic saying, “Those who squander are the brothers of Satan.” By conserving and avoiding materialism, students were taught, they will “triumph against the greed of the American, British, and Zionist enemies” (Al-Tarbiyya Al-Wataniyya Lil Saff Al-Khamis Al-Ibtidai, 2001, p. 37).
Modern Iraqi and Baath party histories were taught alongside early Islamic history, with Saddam Hussein depicted as their champion. The Iran-Iraq war, for instance, was presented in Arab and Islamic history textbooks as a modern version of the 7th century Arab-Islamic victory over the Persians in the battle of Qaddisiyya.
“The battle of Qaddissiya of our ancestors was repeated by the champion of Arabism and Islam, our leader Saddam Hussein (may Allah protect and guide him) against the Persian enemy” (Tarikh Al-Arabi Al-Islami Lil Saff Al-Thani Al-Mutawasat, 1999, p. 58).
A fifth grade textbook shows an artist’s rendition of the ancient battle opposite a photograph of Saddam Hussein in a military uniform “visiting one of the heroic Iraqi army units” (Tarikh Al-Arabi Al-Islami Lil Saff Al-Khamis Al-Ibtidait, 2001).
An important characteristic of the Saddam curriculum was the centrality of the concept of a homogenized Iraqi society. Iraqi diversity was decisively downplayed and distinct groups were all but ignored. Abstract proclamations of coexistence and cooperation, however, were frequent. Students were taught that “Iraqis feel unified; they cooperate and are proud of their deep connection to one another.” Thus, such so-called camaraderie, a common theme especially at the primary level, was taught by way of discounting distinct characteristics of Iraqi society. This guiding principle of the primacy of Iraqi unity and homogeneity, reflected in the excerpt below from a seventh grade textbook, is echoed throughout the curriculum:
“The people of Iraq are a single firm unit—from the north to the south…Living together for thousands of years has generated unity between them. Iraqi blood was fused in its defense” (Al-Tarbiyya Al-Wataniyya Lil Saff Al-Khamis Al-Ibtidai, 2001, p. 12).
Next: A New Iraqi Curricula