The UA will train college-age Iraqi students this summer on how to help rebuild their war-torn country and lead it to stability.
Known as the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program, the training is part of an effort to bring dozens of future leaders to college campuses throughout the United States to learn about democracy and gain the leadership skills they'll need to become local and national political leaders at home.
Despite the training being publicly announced by President Bush nearly two years ago, and being funded by the U.S. State Department, the program at the University of Arizona is somewhat of a secret.
Citing fears that insurgents in Iraq could retaliate against the students or their families, officials at the UA and the non-profit group that runs the program through a State Department grant wouldn't reveal even the most basic details of the operation.
But if the program is a secret, it appears to be badly kept. Numerous government and non-profit Web sites contain information about it, and the UA's internal news organization wrote a lengthy and detailed release describing it, too.
Fifteen to 20 students will arrive on campus in the coming weeks to take part in a five-week program known as the New Technologies and Contemporary Issues Institute, which will be run through the UA's Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the school of journalism, according the UA news release.
The students will learn about multicultural issues in the Southwest, including immigration and cultural identity. They also will tour several of Arizona's natural wonders and receive information on environmental issues relevant to Iraq, the release said.
One key component of the institute will be teaching the students how to communicate with diverse and geographically disparate groups of people via Web sites. They also will learn about social justice and cooperative leadership.
The Iraqi students will hang out with other college students and spend a weekend with host families during their stay.
When asked to confirm the details in the UA release, Maggy Zanger, co-director of the program and an associate professor with the journalism school, wouldn't comment.
Officials with World Learning, a non-profit cultural exchange group that runs the program under a grant from the State Department, also wouldn't comment.
"We are seeking to exercise discretion in the publicizing of this important program due to ongoing security concerns within Iraq," John Fox, a World Learning spokesman, wrote in an e-mail.
Repeated inquiries about the program went unreturned by State Department officials.
Though there have been vocal critics of other exchange programs that have been bringing Iraqis to the United States, there has been little public debate about this one.
Critics have questioned the screening processes of the other programs, but they lack the government collaboration of the Iraqi exchange program.
In the UA news release, Christian Sinclair, co-director of the UA institute and assistant director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said the training is designed to teach students important lessons while also enabling them to make an impact once they return to Iraq.
"How do you get your voice heard?" Sinclair said in the university release.
"How do you spread the word and get other people on board? It's about training a new generation of leaders for Iraq. What we're doing is citizen diplomacy, if you will."