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Infighting Guts Iraqi Student-Exchange Program

Iraqi students studying in Al-Kut in July 2009.

Iraqi students studying in Al-Kut in July 2009.

BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi lawmaker says an ambitious student-exchange program launched by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has sent only 10 students abroad in two years, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Abida Ahmad, deputy chairwoman of the parliament's education committee, told RFI that al-Maliki's "education initiative" was supposed to provide grants that would allow some 10,000 students to study at universities abroad each year.

Ahmad blamed interdepartmental rivalry for the failure.

She said the Higher Education Ministry insisted on running the program instead of the body set up to implement it by the Prime Minister's Office.

Ahmad added that only 10 of around 500 applicants from top students were finally accepted for the program because of obstacles imposed due to interdepartmental feuding.

Saad al-Muttalibi, the deputy minister of national dialogue, told RFI that "when the initiative was launched there was no administrative structure in place to cope with such a large number [of students], while the Higher Education Ministry was deliberately dragging its feet to provide the required personnel to manage the scheme."

Al-Muttalibi said that "hardly any students were sent in 2009 but the target number set under the education initiative will definitely be reached in 2010 as indicated by the many applications that have been processed so far."

But Higher Education Ministry spokeswoman Siham al-Shujairi told RFI that "the scholarships offered by the Prime Minister's Office do not meet the ministry's requirements and those sent to study under the scheme will be wasting their time because the Higher Education Ministry will not recognize their degrees."

Key posts in many Iraqi ministries are allocated after deals are reached between the various factions along communal lines, a practice that often leads to infighting and a lack of interagency cooperation.