Fewer gunmen and bribes as Iraqi students take finals
Authorities boosted security after last year's tests were marred by widespread lawlessness and mass cheating.
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One education official in western Baghdad said this was an opportunity for students and parents from neighborhoods divided along Sunni and Shiite lines to mingle.Skip to next paragraph
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"It's the year of national unity exams," says Jasim Jabbar.
At the Baiyaa exam center for girls, a woman who gave her name as Umm Israa (mother of Israa) describes what she and her two children, a boy and a girl sitting for the final exams separately, have had to contend with this year.
The family lives in Abu Dsheir, an overwhelmingly Shiite area next to predominantly Sunni Dora, which until recently had been among the capital's most violent spots. Umm Israa gets up before dawn to cook lunch. She then accompanies her daughter Israa to the exam center in Baiyaa, in southwestern Baghdad. Many of her neighbors have organized carpools to make the trip, which takes about an hour. She waits outside for hours with other mothers as their daughters take the exam. Some spread sheets on the ground and sit under a tree, turning their gathering into a picnic of sorts for commiseration. All say they are too fearful to let their daughters venture this far from Abu Dhseir alone.
While waiting for her daughter, Umm Israa calls her son regularly to make sure he's fine. He is taking his exams in a predominantly Sunni area next to Bab al-Muadham in northern Baghdad.
"It's one big production every day," grumbles Umm Israa, adding that their hardship is compounded by chronic electricity and water shortages.
Standing nearby, Nibras Said, another Abu Dsheir resident, awaits her sister Luma, who is taking the exam.
Ms. Said, a college freshman, describes the situation last year when she took the same exams. One time, she says, militiamen stormed into an exam hall in Abu Dsheir to force proctors to let students cheat. Another time, the headmaster objected and was briefly kidnapped and threatened by the militiamen before relenting, she says.
"Last year, any loser on the street was able to cheat. Many of these people, who can't even write their names, got into medical school," quips a lady who gave her name as Umm Duaa.
As she complains, anguished-looking girls come out of the exam complaining only about how difficult the questions were. "It's not fair – we did not even have a chemistry teacher all year," says Rasha Anis.
Other girls and mothers chime in, describing how the sectarian cleansing in Baghdad and continued security fears have meant that many public schools operate with a skeletal staff. They say they can't afford private tutors, either.
In an extreme case of exam rage over difficult questions, Education Minister Khudayer al-Khuzaie was confronted about the issue by a group of angry students during a visit to an exam center on June 26. The standoff quickly descended into a melee, prompting Mr. Khuzaie's guards to shoot at the crowd, wounding three, according to witnesses.
The ministry described the incident as "an assassination attempt" on Khuzaie.
One of the wounded students interviewed at the time by Al-Sharqiya TV had this to say: "They searched us thoroughly before we went into the exam hall…. How could have we assassinated him – with our pencils?"