No Relief for Iraqi Doctors

As thousands of doctors leave Iraq, those who remain to heal the sick say they need more security and less corruption.

Iraq's Ministry of Health has earned itself a reputation for engaging in massive spending in certain areas, while basic medical supplies and medicines are left unfunded and lacking (GALLO/GETTY)
“The hospital is crowded, the medical staff are overloaded, and we are deficient of medical staff because doctors continue to leave Iraq,” Dr Yehiyah Karim, a general surgeon at Baghdad Medical City, told Al Jazeera, “There is still the targeting of doctors.”

Dr Karim said that many Iraqi doctors are continuing to flee the country because kidnappings and assassinations are ongoing problems. Since the US invasion in 2003, doctors and other professionals in Iraq have been targets of these crimes in staggering numbers.

According to the Brookings Institute, prior to the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq had 34,000 registered physicians. It is estimated 20,000 of those have left the country, and between 2007 and April 2009 only 1,525 had returned.

“Many doctors are still leaving the country because we are in danger,” Dr Karim, whose hospital is the largest medical center in the country, added. “Last week we had three doctors kidnapped in Kirkuk. Following this, doctors there didn’t go to work for two days. We always feel insecure about our safety.”

Dr Haidar Ali, a neurological consultant at Baghdad’s neurosurgery hospital, told Al Jazeera he often searches his car for sticky bombs, explosive devices that are usually attached to the bottom of a vehicle.

“Many of my colleagues have died this way,” he said, “A couple of months ago the dean of Mustansiriya University got into his car, it blew up, and he died. He was one of the best surgeons of Baghdad. He was dean of a college and a university professor.”

Dr Ali knows many colleagues who have been kidnapped or assassinated going to and from work. While Iraq’s professional class seems to be singled out for kidnappings, Dr Ali thinks the situation is similar for all Iraqis.
“Most Iraqis are targeted. Nobody is protected, and nobody is beyond danger or risk. There are lots of professionals, and normal people and army officers and police, are all being targeted.”

Insecurity and corruption

Dr Zi’aad Tariq, a spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Health, acknowledges the ongoing security problems for doctors.

“Definitely there is a security problem in Iraq,” Dr Tariq told Al Jazeera. “There are a lot of attacks regarding Iraqi doctors. This forces doctors to leave to Jordan, Dubai, or sometimes the US, and we have thousands of doctors now outside of Iraq, and we’ve lost them and their services.”

Read the rest of the story at Al Jazeera English