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Threats of Death Drive Pharmacist from Iraq

Karen Button

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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 Shiite."

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 the professionals."

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?"


:: Article nr. 31303 sent on 12-mar-2007 09:40 ECT

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