The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII — formerly the American Association for Research in Baghdad, AARB) has been established to promote scholarly research on and in Iraq and ancient Mesopotamia. The Institute, a consortium of American universities and museums, intends to establish a multidisciplinary American scholarly research center in Iraq when conditions permit. TAARII raises funds for graduate and post-graduate fellowships for Americans to work on Iraq in as broad a range of disciplines as possible. It also has a fellowship program for Iraqi academics to aid them in carrying out research in Iraq. TAARII initiates its own research projects and fosters joint projects between American and Iraqi academics. Like similar American overseas research centers, TAARII has as its primary focus the humanities and social sciences, as well as closely related natural sciences, but it will facilitate outstanding research in any legitimate academic field.
The Institute was founded in 1989 by a consortium of American universities, colleges, and museums in order to promote scholarly research in and on Iraq and exchange between American and Iraqi scholars. Having received permission from Iraqi authorities, TAARII began the process of establishing an institute in Baghdad in the fall of 1990.
At that time, the initial scope of the institute was to be limited to Ancient and Medieval studies, with some latitude to include fields that related to such studies. Philology, epigraphy, and related studies in the ancient fields were completely acceptable, as were grammatical, literary, historical, and other approaches in Medieval manuscript research. Discussions seemed to indicate that there might be some hope of scholars working in the National Archives and in the libraries of the Abdul Qadir al-Gailani Mosque in Baghdad and the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf. The National Archives housed a rich collection of Ottoman and later documents related to Iraq.
The organization hired its first Resident Director in June 1990, and he and his wife were scheduled to arrive in Baghdad in September. The Kuwait Crisis of early August and the ensuing Gulf War prevented them from taking up residence. During the following 13 years of sanctions, the Iraqi authorities made it clear that they would accept the institute in Baghdad, but the continued sanctions precluded the possibility. Seeing little chance of an end in the embargo, the Board of the institute decided in 1994 to put the organization in a dormant state, continuing to make yearly reports to federal and state oversight bodies but suspending other operations.
Anticipating another major change in Iraq, the Board met in conjunction with the Middle East Studies Association in Washington in November 2002. At that meeting, it was decided to revive the organization, renaming it The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII), and to call a general meeting of Institutional Members, in preparation for adapting to a situation in which the regime in Iraq would be changed or the sanctions would be lifted.
Even with the insecure conditions in Baghdad at present, TAARII’s officers and members hope to be able to establish an institute there. A 2003 visit allowed McGuire Gibson to have discussions with President of the State Board of Antiquities, the President of the University of Baghdad, the President of the Iraqi Academy of Sciences, and other academic and cultural figures, all of whom had been confirmed in their positions or were newly-appointed. All welcomed the idea of an American institute, which would serve as a mechanism for connecting academics of both countries at a number of levels. Of particular importance for them would be the increase in possibilities for Iraqi students to gain placement in programs at American universities.
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