Noted Iraqi scholar and peacemaker assassinated

By staff writers
26 Jan 2007

The Church World Service has expressed its sadness at the apparently targeted killing of noted Iraqi peace and reconciliation advocate and trauma-healing specialist Dr. Alharith Abdulhameed Hassan.

Colleagues at humanitarian agency Church World Service called his death a 'tragic loss'.

Dr. Alharith, a 56-year-old Iraqi Muslim and professor of psychiatry at the University of Baghdad, was shot while travelling to work.

Both Alharith and Maysa attended trainings on peace and reconciliation and trauma healing at EMU in the summer of 2004, and were sponsored to the U.S. with support by Mennonite Central Committee and Church World Service.

News of the death in December only came in a mid-January e-mail from his widow Maysa Hussam Jaber to U.S. friends at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Church World Service.

"I was with him when the hideous hands pulled the trigger to shoot him," Maysa wrote in her e-mail. "I was with him when we took him to the hospital, and I was with him when he said his last words, "I am a doctor."

Rick Santos, Church World Service Coordinator for Program Strategic Planning and Evaluation, attended Church World Service-EMU Seminars for Trauma Awareness and Resilience with Alharith and Maysa. "We are shocked and saddened to hear of Alharith's assassination," says Santos. "He was a tireless voice for peace and reconciliation in Iraq. His poetic mind, heart and passion filled a very big space. He will be deeply missed."

Jan Jenner, a member of EMU's Centre for Justice and Peace leadership team who knew the couple, said: "Dr. Alharith was a man who cared passionately about the people of Iraq. His death, among thousands and thousands in this tragic war, is a great loss to Iraq and to the human community as a whole."

Alharith and Maysa were among the first six Iraqis to attend the trauma trainings at EMU following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Alharith was a leading figure both in Iraq and as a representative of Iraqi intellectuals on the international level.

Maysa says she does not know who her husband's killers were or why they targeted him. He was well known as a moderate, "working for the good of Iraq with no ethnic or religious bias," she said.

His moderation could have made him a target of extremists of various persuasions, who seem intent on wiping out those who are effective advocates of peaceful resolution of conflict, said Maysa.

"Alharith is one of the growing number of Iraqi intellectuals and academicians who are tragically being targeted in recent months," says CWS' Santos. "His death personifies what appears to be an attempt to murder the mind, heart and spirit of Iraq."

Alharith's academic credentials were extensive. At his death he was director-general of the psychological research centre at the University of Baghdad. He was a professor at Al-Mustansiriya University, the Baghdad campus where at least 70 perished when suicide bombers hit on January 16.

Alharith's CV lists degrees for medicine, surgery and psychiatry from universities in Baghdad, London, Dublin and Edinburgh.

In recent years his research and practice interests were post-traumatic stress disorder, the rights of women and children, and interfaith education.

EMU professor Peter Dula, who represented Mennonite Central Committee in Iraq until mid-2006, said that Iraqi intellectuals of all kinds are in extreme danger, especially professors, physicians and lawyers. "Hundreds have been killed," he said.

Alharith's widow wrote: "Please, my friends remember Alharith in your prayers as a man of love, who continuously called for "love, peace, forgiveness and the power of knowledge."

EMU's Jenner said that a chapel service in Alharith¬?s memory will be held at the Harrisonburg campus next week. "Ways to permanently memorialize Alharith and other alumni who have died in the service of peace are being discussed," Jenner added.

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