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:: Article nr. 31303 sent on 12-mar-2007 09:40 ECT
Threats of Death Drive Pharmacist from Iraq
UN offices in Damascus are regularly beseiged by Iraqis desperate for help [EPA]
March 12, 2007
Damascus - Dina is pharmacist from al-Jamia district in Baghdad where
she owned a pharmacy and lived with her husband and their two children.
She is a vibrant woman whose bright pink lipstick and blond highlights
would make her an instant target in today’s Iraq. As it turns out, she
was targeted for other reasons.
"In the past, we lived in safety," she tells me. "I have two beautiful
children, a special home; every day I go to work in the morning and then
again in the evening. I was happy in my work, my home, in my country.
There was no worry, no killing, no threats…my children, my husband…we
lived in a safe manner. We never thought there would come a day we would
live this way," she says, referring to the current chaos.
"After the Americans came, everything in my life changed. When I was
working, for the first time, I didn’t feel safe.
"One day at 4pm I was on my way to work. I was driving when four men
with guns forced me to stop. The pulled me from my car and began beating
me heavily with their guns. They beat me on the head and on my
shoulders. They told me, 'if you don’t leave from Iraq, we will kill
your children and your husband. You’re a pharmacist and all of you,
doctors, chemists, pharmacists, you all must leave Iraq!’
"Then the gunmen stole my car and in it were many pharmaceuticals and my
bag with all of my ID, including my address. I was so scared.
"I cried every day thinking about what to do. I did not want to leave
Iraq, but I was worried about my children and my husband. I’m a
pharmacist; my husband is a chemist and a Sunni man. If my husband
walked in the street and the government [security forces] took him for
any reason, he would be killed for sure since the government forces are
Dina took the threats against her and her family very seriously.
Thousands of doctors, academics and other professionals have been
targeted in Iraq. Some have been kidnapped for ransom, others killed. No
figures exist for how many professionals have fled Iraq, but in the
medical field alone serious shortages of doctors have left many
hospitals with interns now acting as the senior physicians. The World
Health Organization estimates there are less than seven doctors per
10,000 people in Iraq.
"So, we had to leave Baghdad," Dina says, shaking her head. "You know, I
owned my pharmacy for 15 years; this was my life. I felt so sad. I lived
all my life in Iraq. I was crying the whole road from Baghdad to
Damascus. Now, after 40 years I have come to a unknown country with
unfamiliar customs. In the beginning I would cry every morning I was so
homesick. I felt, I can’t live in Iraq and I can’t live here.
"My children are in school…thankfully. But myself and my husband, we
cannot work here. The Ministry of Health won’t allow the Iraqi
pharmacist, doctor, or teacher to work . The manual labor, yes, but not
Dina’s family was once part of the middle-class, now disappearing from
Iraq. Like too many Iraqis, Dina and her husband have lost everything
they worked toward. The business in which Dina invested so much time and
money is now gone, too.
"My pharmacy has been destroyed," she laments. "One day after I left,
there was a huge gun battle in the street in front of my pharmacy and it
was burned completely. Everything is ended, all my money gone. I lost
everything--my pharmacy, my hope to return to my country. There’s no
safety at all. We have to have someone stay in our house in Iraq, not
even for money, but just to protect it from being taken by others." In
Baghdad especially militias, gangs and, at times, the US military are
known to either occupy a house, for use as a base, or to destroy it.
"The Americans caused so many problems by coming. They’ve damaged
everything, the society, the human beings, the buildings, everything.
When they came they brought with them people who were involved with
Iran. Now, everything in our country is damaged. What a pity. What a pity.
"You know, the Americans said 'we come to liberate you from Saddam,’ but
instead they destroyed Iraq. When they killed Saddam we lost more hope.
All the Iraqi people would wish the time would turn back, even for one
moment to when Saddam was in power, just to feel, even for that moment,
what life was like. It didn’t matter if you hated Saddam or liked him,
all Iraqis wish for a return to those days.
When I ask where she would like to go now, she answers quickly, "I hope
to stay here in Syria for two reasons. The first: here I can feel my
country. I can also be close to my country and maybe I can return home
some day. The second is it is an Arab country. It’s Muslim and the
Syrians welcome us while the rest of the world now shuns us.
"I long one day to return to Iraq. I love my country. It’s where I was
born and I spent so many good times there with many friends and family.
My memories are full of these good times.
"I am telling you my story not because it is an important one, but that
I hope you take this story to the outside, to the rest of the world."
She gestures to a number of other Iraqi women sitting close by. "All
these women here, they have the same story. I am just one of thousands
of cases like this.
"But, here is the important thing: I want the people of the world to
know how I had to leave my country. Now, I don’t know what country I can
live and work in. Now, most countries don’t even allow the Iraqi people.
Why? I have lost my life, my home, my hope. Why? Is that what Americans
want? Is that liberating? Is that being free from Saddam?"
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