Back from Baghdad, visiting Centre professor to present progam on Iraq

October 03, 2004

While leading the American effort to rebuild Iraq's university system, John Agresto spent nearly a year in Baghdad following the U.S. invasion. He had high hopes, but faced daunting challenges and great danger, and returned home knowing much more needs to be done.

Agresto, Humana Visiting Professor at Centre College, will talk about his experiences Monday. His presentation, "Eyewitness Iraq: Lessons Learned, Lessons Lost," will take place in Newlin Hall at 7:30 p.m.

A former president of St. John's College in New Mexico, Agresto served as the chief U.S. adviser to Iraqi higher education. His position was as a member of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. agency that was responsible for the civil administration of Iraq until the U.S. handed over power to the new Iraqi regime in June.

Upon his arrival in Baghdad in the fall of 2003, six months after the U.S. invasion, Agresto found Iraq's higher education system in shambles. The colleges and universities had limited equipment, books and funds.


Agresto estimated that the colleges and universities needed $1.2 billion to get back on their feet. He first attended the International Donors Conference for the reconstruction of Iraq in an attempt to secure international aid. He requested more than $700 million, but the World Bank turned that proposal down. World Bank officials have made no money available for higher education in Iraq, and say they have no plans to do so this academic year.

More disappointing news came from the home front. Last spring Congress appropriated $87 billion for Iraqi reconstruction. Agresto asked for $120 million for higher education but received only $8 million.

Agresto initially visited schools, but the security situation in Iraq became increasingly unstable, so he and others on his staff rarely left the Green Zone, a heavily fortified American compound in Baghdad. In January of this year, a car bomb exploded outside of the compound killing 36 Iraqis, including an acquaintance of Agresto's who worked in the Green Zone.

He returned to the U.S. this summer when the new Iraqi regime took over.

Agresto still believes the CPA accomplished a great deal in the time it was there, including the promotion of academic freedom that came with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, though he sees much more to be done.

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