Former CPA Education Adviser Reflects on Her Experiences in Iraq

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

"Getting the schools up and running quickly was important to restoring a sense of order," said Pamela Riley, an education fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. Recently returned from Iraq, Riley was there as an education adviser to Ambassador Paul Bremer from December 2003 to June 2004.

In "Classrooms and Improvised Explosive Devices: Reflections on Reviving Education in Iraq during the Coalition Provisional Authority," Riley spoke about her experience in Iraq as an education adviser. She was a guest speaker at the Hoover Institution on October 6 in a program sponsored and moderated by Hoover research fellow Williamson M. Evers.

"Historically, Iraq was known for having the best schools [in the Middle East]," Riley said, but in the last 12 years education in that country was neglected. Immediate steps were taken by the United States occupation forces to address the country's education needs.

Schools were open in Iraq within weeks after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, Riley said, so students could prepare for national exams to prevent them from falling a year behind in their studies. Textbooks were updated to remove government propaganda, sometimes using black markers. Also, teachers were hired and their salaries were raised.

Despite these early accomplishments, though, Riley said, there is much more that needs to be done. She said that the Iraqi government needs to allocate more money to education; improve safety for teachers and students; and reform an overly bureaucratic and corrupt system.

The efforts undertaken to address education needs were done, she said, in difficult circumstances. After being in Baghdad where bombings were so frequent, Riley admitted that she still "looks at soda cans and plastic bags on the road with some wariness." Bombs there are often disguised in some seemingly innocuous way to prevent detection until they are detonated.

The need for security increased during the time she was there. Eventually, she was unwilling to leave the "green zone" (a secured area within Baghdad where U.S. occupation forces live and work) without guards, although the security they provided was questionable. Riley said she was traveling with Iraqi guards whose guns, she came to find out, were unloaded. At times they had no money, so they couldn't buy bullets for the guns. Riley said she offered to buy them bullets in the future.

Riley continues to support efforts to provide education in Iraq. She serves as a consultant on school partnerships for Spirit of America, an American charity that helps Americans (civilian and military) serving in Iraq and Afghanistan provide informal humanitarian relief.