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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 March 2007, 12:56 GMT
Passport dilemmas beset Iraqis
By Sebastian Usher
BBC Middle East reporter

Passports of Iraqis waiting to travel outside country
Iraqis face long delays to get the right documents

The desire to get out of Iraq increases in line with the violence. The UN estimates that two million Iraqis have already left the country.

For those trying to follow them, getting the necessary papers to leave has become an obstacle course requiring huge reserves of patience or cash, often both.

It's the chance of escape for many Iraqis - their passports stamped and ready so they can leave the country.

But which passport? The first S series issued a year or so after the toppling of Saddam Hussein is rejected by most countries, because they can easily be faked.

To get out of Iraq you now need a G series passport.

Laith, one of the tens of thousands of Iraqis trying to get hold of one, explains:

"They're saying now these new passports which have been printed in Germany are very unique passports that are very difficult to be faked. And there is only one office in Baghdad that is responsible for issuing these passports, even people from the provinces - their papers have to come to Baghdad."

But before you can even join that queue, you've got to get new ID papers and a passport application form.

An ordeal in itself, says Sabah, another Iraqi trying to escape Iraq with her family:

"They told us to change our nationality cards. The place is very crowded because everybody wants to leave. They want to find a solution to their problems. That took two days. You have to do all of this before you get a passport."

Long queues

Being in a crowd in any public place in Baghdad for more than a few minutes is a frightening business.

Another Iraqi trying to get through the passport obstacle course is Hassan:

"The places where you renew your papers are very risky, they are scary. Most of them are by main roads, the queue of people is visible to everyone. The line begins at 6 am and there are no guards to protect you."

Even animals are treated better - the police kick you with their shoes, only those who have money can get inside easily
Sabah

But it's when you've got the right papers and forms that the real problems begin, says Sabah:

"We went at our allotted time but it was incredibly crowded, the police were outside, Hummers were passing by and there was random shooting. Young men were jumping over the walls to get to the passport office. We didn't think we had any hope of getting in. I turned to my husband and told him: 'There's no way we can get a passport in such madness'."

Sabah was trying the official way to get the passports she needed, paying about $20 and facing a waiting time of more than 40 days.

Middlemen

But many don't trust the system and can't wait. Laith is one of them:

"There are a lot of people now who are taking money to issue a passport so you can overcome this long waiting list and also all this complication during the issuing process. So I got in touch with a person who knows somebody in the passport office who issues passports for people and they pay him money. So I went through this way."

Laith handed over $550 per document for four passports - a fortune for him. He had to wait longer than he was promised but he has ended up with three passports that are usable and one that isn't. Hassan paid less - $100. He got a passport, too, but as he explains:

"The problem is that after just two days I was told that the passport was no longer valid."

Sabah who has been going through the official, legal process still hasn't received a G series passport. She simply can't afford the cost of using one of the middlemen plying a roaring trade in obtaining papers - some of their prices as high as $800:

"Forgive me, we are treated like animals, actually even animals are treated better. The police kick you with their shoes, only those who have money can get inside easily. If you don't have money, you are humiliated - it was so hard and in the end all I got was an S passport which is useless."

For those struggling to find a way out of the most violent areas in Iraq, the passport obstacle course is not just a cause of frustration and stress but potentially a matter of life and death.




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