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A helping hand after invasion

If this were April 1, anyone reading our front page story this week could be forgiven for thinking it was a spoof. The fact is, the Iraqi government and those in charge of the education system have been paying close attention to what FE colleges in this country do for their communities.

"Creating social cohesion" is more than just a phrase. Throughout the UK, colleges have provided an oasis from the troubles of communities in the midst of ethnic tension, perhaps none more so than in Northern Ireland, where "normalisation" was business as usual long before becoming a buzzword in Ulster.

In some respects, this extra business for FE is part of the spoils of war.

It is surely no coincidence that our involvement in the invasion puts us in prime position for doing business with the new fledgling administration.

This aside, colleges have good reason to celebrate. It is their expertise which is making the difference in this most dangerous of locations.

It would be naive to imagine that none of the 57 former fighters who have emerged with vocational qualifications from Najaf's British-backed college will return to violence. Northern Ireland has shown that, even when a political solution is within grasp, paramilitaries are prone to return to old ways if they cannot gain a foothold in civilian life. The province's sectarian groups have a common belief that education is key to keeping their supporters from violence.

The 57 Iraqis - and those who follow them - are being given that foothold.

If a new democratic Iraq is able to grow from the debris of the recent conflict, these people will also remember another, kinder face, of our country: its education system.

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