Attacks ebb but Iraqi doctors face death, extortion

Mon Feb 1, 2010 8:53am EST
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By Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi doctor Mussab Abdul-Latif recalls the time a man threw a brick at him, accusing him of not doing his job well, as he tried to organize medical help for victims of a bombing in the southern city of Basra.

The incident was just one of hundreds of attacks, threats, kidnappings and tribal demands for blood money that doctors in Iraq routinely suffer at the hands of relatives of patients who die or feel a little pain.

"We are not supermen. Citizens want magic," said Latif.

"If we conduct a surgical procedure and a patient cries out, they think a doctor should be beaten. We are supposed to do everything without pain and that is simply impossible."

Violence in Iraq has ebbed over the past two years as the sectarian slaughter between majority Shi'ites and once dominant Sunnis ended, but Iraqi doctors still face daily dangers.

Considered among the elite of Iraqi society, medical specialists became a target of insurgents and militias seeking to sow mayhem, and kidnappers in search of rich ransoms. Hundreds have been killed since 2003 and many more fled abroad.

A big problem, particularly in the Shi'ite south, is tribal demands for compensation if a patient dies. Doctors in Diwaniya, where tribal customs often have the upper hand over the rule of law, conducted three sit-ins last year to protest.

The Iraqi cabinet endorsed a draft law in January that would allow doctors to carry weapons, outlaw tribal demands for compensation and make attempted extortion of doctors punishable by a prison sentence or fines.   Continued...