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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 July 2005, 22:46 GMT 23:46 UK
Brain drain puts new strain on Iraq
By Caroline Hawley
BBC News, Baghdad

Iraqi doctors during a protest against alleged mistreatment by the Iraqi military
Iraqi hospitals have already been affected by the exodus
In stifling summer heat, Dr Muthanna al-Assal patiently waits his turn in a jostling queue. Like many doctors in Baghdad, he is making preparations to leave the country.

The main passport office in the city is crammed with people, like Dr Assal, trying to get out of Iraq. Some are planning holidays in neighbouring countries but others are in search of a better, safer life abroad.

"If I can get a job elsewhere, I'll go," says the 35-year old chest and heart surgeon.

"Things are going downhill here both with security and basic services.

And there's no hope in the near future. I think conditions will take 20 years to improve."

Scientists, doctors and engineers all feel they have better chances outside Iraq
Dr Muthanna al-Assal
And the long-term implications of the exodus are troubling. Iraq suffered a massive brain drain under Saddam Hussein, when an estimated four million people fled into exile.

"Our best professionals left a long time ago," says one government official.

But the haemorrhaging of talent is continuing - and seems unstoppable.

'I will return'

The government has no precise statistics on the problem. But in June, it announced it would double the salaries of university professors in a bid to keep them from leaving the country.

"Scientists, doctors and engineers all feel they have better chances outside Iraq," says Dr Assal.

"It makes me sad to leave because I know that my people need me. But in these circumstances what can I do?"

Junior doctors in hospitals are already feeling the gap left by specialists who have left.

And the exodus is having an impact on neighbouring countries too.

An influx of Iraqis into Jordan has already pushed up rental prices in the capital, Amman.

"The situation in Iraq is miserable with all these bombs," says 18-year old engineering student, Al-Harith Hatem, standing in line for a new passport.

"We want to leave to escape it all."

But, he adds: "I will come back, for sure. I want to return to work for my country."

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