Backing 'free voices in universities'

Iraq students rally in support of Gaza, US campus protests

BAGHDAD – Dozens of Iraqi university students and professors rallied Thursday at a Baghdad campus in solidarity with Gaza and pro-Palestinian protests at U.S. universities.

Iraqi Education Minister Naeem Al-Aboudi earlier this week expressed his support for the “free voices in universities” around the world, and called for protests in solidarity with the embattled Gaza Strip.

Students at Al-Nahrain University waved the Palestinian and Iraqi flags.

“With all that is happening to our people in Gaza… of course I must be among the first to come to raise our voice,” student Aya Kader, 20, said.

“It is very positive to see the Palestinian flag being waved at American universities,” she said.

Weeks-long pro-Palestinian protests that have swept campuses across the United States have “encouraged us”, she added.

Students and professors also carried banners calling for a “free Palestine”, with some wearing the keffiyeh scarf that has long been a symbol of the Palestinian cause.

“We are here to tell them to stop the killing and to thank the free voices around the world,” said Professor Jomaa Salman, head of the engineering faculty.

“If the storming of Columbia University had happened in another country, especially in a third world country, they would have moved heaven on earth.”

The Iraqi embassy in Washington called Wednesday for “restraint, calm, respect for human rights and peaceful expression” as unrest over Israel’s war in Gaza simmered on US campuses.

Iraq does not recognise Israel while all Iraqi political factions support the Palestinian people.

In 2019, popular protests broke out in Iraq against the ruling establishment, and a security crackdown left more than 600 people killed.

The United States is Israel’s largest military supplier.

In recent weeks, U.S. universities have become hotspots of political activism, with a series of student protests escalating in response to the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

These demonstrations, largely in solidarity with Palestinian students and against Israel’s military actions, have seen a significant crackdown by authorities. Clashes have erupted on several campuses as tensions flare between pro-Palestinian demonstrators and groups supporting Israel.

Student protesters on American campuses say they are expressing solidarity with Palestinians in the war-devastated Gaza Strip, prompting large-scale police arrests.

The response from university administrations has varied. Some institutions have issued statements calling for calm and urging respectful dialogue among students. Others have taken more stringent measures, including the imposition of curfews, increased security presence, and, in some cases, threats of suspensions or disciplinary actions against participants in the protests.

The police presence on campuses has been notably heightened, with numerous arrests and charges laid against students accused of violating peace or engaging in violent activities. These measures have, in turn, sparked further debates about the balance between safety and freedom of expression on college campuses.

The Gaza war broke out after the unprecedented October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel which resulted in the death of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel retaliated with a massive offensive that has killed at least 34,596 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Militants also seized hostages during the attack, estimating that 129 of them remain in Gaza, including 34 the military says are dead.

AFP. Additional reporting by 964media