Monday, May 10, 2004

Iraqi doctors ask: "What about us?"

A number of renown Iraqi specialist doctors have expressed their outrage over the Iraqi, Arab, and international public reaction to the images of abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib. This following an alarming increase in the number of assassinations and abductions of Iraqi intellectuals and top medical professionals recently in Baghdad.

"They scream and whine about abuse of prisoners, most of who are criminals, but I don't recall anyone mentioning what we have gone through let alone condemning it, which was much worse. Now they are openly calling the Americans to release thousands of those criminals from Abu Ghraib.", a relative of ours told us a couple of days ago. He was kidnapped months ago and held for 2 weeks, after which his family paid a large ransom. Now he is considering leaving Iraq after he had recieved threats. He has already been offered a job as a professor in a Medical college in Europe.

Dr. Jawad Al-Shakarchi, a famous ophthalmologist was beaten together with his wife in front of his own house by armed assailants and was then forced to pay a ransom of $30,000. He left Iraq shortly following his release. Dr. Walid Al-Khayyal, a world famous Iraqi nephrologist specialised in kidney surgery and implantation immigrated to the UK immediately after his release a few weeks ago. He mentioned that his kidnappers tortured him and urinated in his mouth several times in an attempt to break his will. He refused to disclose the sum he paid for ransom. Dr. Abdul Hadi Al-Khalili, a specialist in brain surgery, is still suffering from severe psychological trauma and depression because of the humiliation he experienced by his captors and the large sum he paid in order to save his life. Dr. Raysan Al-Fayyadh, a general surgeon, was kidnapped by 15 gunmen in 3 cars. His family paid his captors $50,000 after he had sustained fractures in his nose and left arm after a whole week of torture.

Other gangs have resorted to blackmailing doctors monthly in return for their personal safety. The target is often threatened with death or abduction of a family member in case he doesn't comply with their demands. Eventually, this lead to rivalry and disputes between gangs competing for wealthier targets, often settled by assigning 'areas of influence' to each gang

A long list of specialists and doctors whom had immigrated abroad to escape the hegemony of organised crime groups was released by several concerned specialists. The list includes names such as Sarmad Al-Fahad, Riyadh Al-Sakini, Mudhaffar Karkachi, Mizhir Al-Douri, Mudhaffar Habboush, Talib Khairallah, Sinan Al-Azawi, Adil Al-Qaisi, Ayad Shafiq, and Hussam Jarmuqli. The Iraqi Medical Association organised a sit-in Saturday protesting the public's silence to the dangers they were confronting everyday, and calling upon the GC, Ministry of Interior, religious, tribal, and political groups to put an end to it, warning them of the grave consequences to the country if the immigration of Iraqi specialists and intellectuals abroad continues.

As much as 500 Iraqi intellectuals and specialists have been reportedly assassinated since April 2003, and a much larger number have been abducted. Several groups have been accused. Insurgents, criminals, fundamental religious groups, foreign terrorists, even Israelis. GC member Muhsin Abdul Hamid mentioned the phenomenon a week ago for the first time in public, decribing it as an "international plot against Iraq". However, the reluctance of the IP to assume their duties and the spread of lawlessness is to blame. Several gangs have been captured only to be released after a few days because of threats against the police force. In Tannuma, Basrah, an IP station was surrounded by an armed group related to several prisoners detained at the station. A tribal sheikh leading the group talked to the IP officer and told him to release his 'boys'. When the officer tried to explain to him that the prisoners they were holding were looters and bandits, the sheikh responded "So what? You know they're only trying to support their families". The officer was forced to release the prisoners when the sheikh threatened to return with heavier weapons. The reason the officer relented is because he also lives in the same area, and he or his family might be later harmed by relatives of the criminals.

Some tribal sheikhs have condemned other tribes for this behaviour, and several have vowed upon themselves to disown or punish any of their tribesmen connected with banditry or criminal behaviour, and to lose the protection and sanctuary of one's tribe is the worst kind of punishment that can be inflicted on an individual in rural parts of Iraq. That is why the former regime relied on tribal leaders rather than the police force to maintain order in the country.

Tribal laws sometimes border on the surreal. For example, when a thief breaks into your house and you succeed in injuring or killing him, his tribe would contact you asking for a diyya (a specific sum of money to be payed to a tribe for it's reputation and esteem to be restored) otherwise you would have to face the consequences. There are some ridiculous stories related to this practice, like a few months ago, this incident at the Basrah university; a herd of bulls was passing through an area of campus where some powerlines construction work was going on, a bull was electrocuted when it tripped over and damaged a power cable. The bull belonged to a tribe of former Marsh Arabs who had settled in the area recently. An angry sheikh came to the dean demanding a diyya for the dead bull. The dean was at a loss. He couldn't convince the sheikh that he had nothing to do with the accident. The university ended up paying the tribe for their dead bull.

I suppose I will have to write a post some time about tribes and their controversial role in Iraqi society.