Friday, 29 August 2008

New uni head in Iraq was British commander at battle of Basra


This article first appeared in English Language Gazette, August 2008

THE NEW head of Iraq’s first English-medium university is the British former commander who captured Basra in the coalition invasion of the country five years ago, reports Matt Salusbury.

At the start of the spring holiday, staff and students at Kurdistan University Hawler (KUH) – in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region – were introduced to their new rector, Lieutenant General Robin Brims (retired).

Although Brims has no academic degree, he does have an impressive CV in the field of leadership. In addition to capturing Basra in 2003, his other achievements include being deputy head of all coalition forces in Baghdad, army chief of staff in Northern Ireland, commander of an air mobile brigade in Bosnia in the 1990s and commander of the field army in the UK before retiring from the army in 2007. Brims won the Distinguished Service Order medal for his role in the battle of Basra.

Brims replaces Kurdish academic Professor Abbas Vali, KUH’s rector on its foundation with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) funding in 2006. The university, the first founded in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, awards degrees accredited and monitored by the UK’s University of Bradford.

It primarily caters for Iraqi Kurdish students, but has kept to its quotas for Arab students from the rest of Iraq. Vali’s reputation as an academic at the UK’s University of Wales at Swansea and then at Bogazaci University in Istanbul helped attract many Kurdish and English speaking academics to work at KUH in the region’s capital Hawler (also known as Erbil). See the Gazette of July 2006 for a report on KUH’s foundation.

Dr Sarah Keeler, formerly of the KUH social sciences faculty, told the Gazette that she was among seven faculty members to resign in protest at what she saw as the sudden appointment and the questionable way the change of leadership was brought about. Brims said he was appointed on orders from the KRG prime minister’s office.

In his inaugural speech at KUH Brims admitted, ‘I am not an academic; indeed I did not attend a university myself... So why am I considered suitable for this task? The answer is simple. I have not spent the last 38 years leading the charge at the front of the troops. I have led by analysis, idea, planning and implementation.’ Other ex-military men have gone to become highly effective leaders in education, as in other areas of civilian management. But it’s not know whether there is a precedent for a commander of invading army to progress to running one of the country’s universities, especially after a command role in a conflict which, arguably, has still not ended.

© English Language Gazette 2008