Twenty-five Iraqi students and scholars are in the U.S. to study under the Fulbright program. They are the first Iraqis to participate in the program since 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Indeed, as Secretary of State Colin Powell told them in a welcoming speech, they are “the first Fulbright students and scholars from a now free Iraq.”
But they won’t be the last. In the months and years to come, more Iraqis will be coming to study, teach, and do research in the U.S. And Americans will be doing the same in Iraq -- just as they do now in countries around the world.
Established by the U.S. Congress more than a half century ago, the Fulbright program is administered by the State Department. It operates in about one-hundred fifty countries, including virtually every country in the Middle East except Iran and Libya. This year, about two-hundred students and scholars from Middle Eastern countries will come to the U.S. under the program, and a similar number of Americans will study, teach, or do research in the Middle East.
Mr. Powell says the Iraqi Fulbright fellows are “the future for an open, democratic, prosperous Iraq”:
“As Fulbright pioneers for a free Iraq, you must be inspired to know that Fulbright alumni from other countries rose to the challenge of leadership when their nations made historic transitions to democracy."
Such leaders include thirty-three Nobel laureates. Others who came to the U.S. on Fulbright or similar educational exchanges include United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, his predecessor Boutros Boutros Ghali, Egypt’s late President Anwar Sadat, and cabinet ministers from Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
Iraqi Fulbright fellow Rawand Abdulkadir Darwesh, a Kurd from Erbil, says he has already met Americans with many different backgrounds:
“I found a rich diversity of people coming from everywhere in the world.”
This diversity has enriched America. And if they work together, Iraq’s wide variety of ethnic and religious groups can lead their country to a better future.