Skip to main content

Iraqi teachers resort to abuse of students

With poor to absent government supervision and education policies, Iraq’s educational system seems to be stuck in the past.
Students attend the first day of the new school term in Baghdad October 22, 2014. Children went back to school at the start of the new term on Wednesday amid increased security in Baghdad, as conflict rages in the country.  REUTERS/Ahmed Saad (IRAQ - Tags: EDUCATION SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR4B4OY

It is no new phenomenon that students in Iraq are exposed to physical punishment at the hands of their teachers. But a video posted on YouTube and social media sites on March 25 showed a school principal slapping students violently in their faces. Ali Hassan, a teacher from the Maysan governorate in southeastern Iraq, told Al-Monitor that the students in the video are 8-10 years old. According to the educational media manager for the Maysan governorate, Mohammed Hamza al-Kaabi, the video had been in the possession of the Directorate of Education for two weeks before it went viral on social media.

As a result, there was a massive wave of demands to dismiss the principal on the grounds of using excessive violence, and to prosecute him.

The video shows the Zahawy primary school principal in al-Kahla region in Maysan governorate — 320 kilometers (199 miles) southeast of Baghdad — slapping students, who were standing next to one another, in their faces and pulling their ears violently. The video provoked the disapproval of the Committee of Integrity, which demanded the arrest of the principal. On March 26, Minister of Education Muhammad Iqbal called for “conducting an urgent inquiry and punishing the school principal.”

The general inspector of the Ministry of Education, Jamila Zidane, told Al-Monitor over the phone, “The ministry’s general inspectorate will impose disciplinary and administrative punishment to deter the abusive principal.”

She added, “The ministry is monitoring the school's compliance with educational systems that prevent violence.”

In Maysan governorate, where the incident occurred, the investigative committee formed by the Directorate of Education on March 26 decided to dismiss the principal.

In the wake of the incident, writer and researcher in social affairs, Sabah Kazem, told Al-Monitor, “There are many teachers in Iraq who think that students become obedient when they are beaten and treated in a violent way, and then start studying and doing homework. All calls to prevent violence in the educational system in Iraqi schools have failed.”

Nazem Alyawi, the principal of Mandali primary school in Babil, south of Baghdad, condemned physical punishment of students and told Al-Monitor, “Some teachers think this is the right way, and that it works for mischievous students to force them to study and obey the rules.”

Social researcher Ahlam al-Khafaji objected, saying, “Violence has psychological effects on the abused student, and it instills the spirit of violence, making it seem like the right way to solve problems in the future.”

She added, “Violence in schools, in addition to domestic violence, breeds a generation that believes in aggressive behavior as the only way to obtain its rights.”

In the same context, one of the main incidents in a series of violence events at schools was the death of a primary school student on March 17, 2014, a month after he went into a coma after being beaten with a metal rod by the school principal in south Amarah, 380 kilometers south of Baghdad.

This fateful event did not deter Abbas Kazem, who teaches at Madhatiya school in the city of Hamza, Babil, from telling Al-Monitor that he supports “terrorizing students in the [classroom], provided that they are not beaten with a cane, as this could lead to physical harm.”

He justified his viewpoint by saying, “Loosening the grip on students will only push them to slacken in their studies and disrespect their family and teachers.”

Academic and instructor Mohsen Ali Atiyeh, who has worked at schools in Babil for more than three decades, placed the video showing students being beaten in a wider cultural context.

“These scenes reflect the prevalence of violence in the behavior of the Iraqis. Violence has become the easiest and most effective way for them to solve problems. Violence varies, as it can be verbal or physical. Beating is either done by hand, cane or weapons of all sorts. People are murdered, corpses are abused and armed tribal conflicts have become commonplace in the country,” Atiyeh said.

He added, “Violence in education proves that the state’s role in maintaining discipline and order is nonexistent. With the absence of this role, groups and individuals have started to feel that force alone is the way to resolve conflicts.”

Atiyeh pointed out that the repeated violent incidents in Iraqi schools “depict backward educational methods and failure to train instructors based on the principles of modern education.”

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial