Middle East, New in Lobbying

‘From mortars to mortar boards’: American-style university in Baghdad lobbies US for funding

A US-style private nonprofit university in Baghdad that began registering its first students this month has hired lobbying help to get federal funding for its dreams of making Iraq a world-class center of learning once again.

The American University of Iraq – Baghdad (AUIB) hired the Alexandria Group International effective Jan. 1 to help promote the university as a “worthy and worthwhile educational endeavor.” The contract is for $252,000 through 2021.

Leading the lobbying effort is Alexandria Group managing partner Marshall Harris, a former State Department official under President Bill Clinton who was later vice president at Freedom House. Joining him is senior political adviser Zorica Maric Djordjevic, a former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro. Signing for the university is founding president Michael Mulnix, a US educator who was previously the founding president of the American University of Kurdistan.

Symbolism permeates the initiative. The university occupies the site of one of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein‘s palaces. And its location in the country’s capital aims to help reverse the brain drain from all the promising Iraqi students who have left the country in search of a top-notch education.

“From mortars to mortar boards, this is part of our nation-building legacy in Iraq,” Harris told Foreign Lobby Report. “We are helping to create a civil society” in Iraq and throughout the region.

Iraq has two similar institutions established after the 2003 invasion to promote a western-style, English-language education, but both are in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region: The American University of Kurdistan in Duhok, which Mulnix previously led, and the American University of Iraq – Sulaimani.

According to its web site, AUIB is the “dream of influential individuals in Iraq and United States business, industry and government who want to see a world-class institution of higher learning established in Baghdad, reminiscent of the days when the city was an educational and cultural mecca and the flourishing capital of the Muslim world.” It plans to eventually support 10 colleges, a hospital, K-12 lab school, convention center and more.

“From mortars to mortar boards, this is part of our nation-building legacy in Iraq.”

American University of Iraq – Baghdad lobbyist Marshall Harris

“For several centuries, it was truly the intellectual and cultural capital of the Arab World,” the university’s site says. “All of this changed in the 1980s with wars in the region. Until recently, Baghdad was under a near-continuous stage of siege that all but destroyed the city. Today, the founders of AUIB are establishing a new university that is now paving the way for a complete revival of Iraq.”

A key step in getting there is to establish a US legal presence so the university can apply for federal grants that are available only to American entities. The Alexandria Group’s registration with the US Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) states that the university will establish “at the earliest possible date” a charitable foundation as a US 501(c)(3) corporation “to carry out its functions in the United States.”

Other tasks include :

  • Promoting AUIB in the US policy community through targeted and general outreach;
  • Establishing a “close, sustained, and productive relationship” with the US administration and Congress in support of AUlB’s general and specific goals;
  • Engaging directly with responsible members and staff of the US Congress and with US officials representing relevant US government departments and agencies to increase commitment to AUlB’s mission and agenda;
  • Working with US media and representatives of Washington’s think-tank, academic, and other nonprofit and advocacy communities to include AUIB in its professional work and support the university institutionally;
  • Supporting AUIB in its pursuit of other professional opportunities in the United States, including outreach to municipalities and diaspora groups;
  • Crafting and delivering messages to enlist support for AUIB and expanding its constituencies in the United States; and
  • Providing AUIB with timely and relevant analyses of US political, economic, cultural, and related developments.

Several other American Universities abroad also have lobbying contracts, although those are registered under the domestic Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) rather than FARA.

Lobby firm
2020 lobbying spending (Q1 – Q3)
American University of Afghanistan
Kabul, Afghanistan
The American University in Cairo
Cairo, Egypt
Lebanese American University
Beirut and Byblos, Lebanon
Ghazal & Associates
American University of Beirut
Beirut, Lebanon
Source: Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) / Congress

Their lobbying appears to be paying off. The American University of Afghanistan for example has received more than $110 million from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) since its inception in 2006 despite issues over its governance and fiscal controls. And in June the State Department announced $20 million to help cover tuition costs for 1,800 students at the the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University amid the economic crisis in Lebanon.