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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 September 2007, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Eyewitness: Iraq's brain drain
Sarah Muthanna
Sarah still has no idea what happened to her father

Sarah Muthanna, a medical student from Baghdad, fled Iraq to settle in Jordan after her father was kidnapped. She explores the brain drain from Iraq that is driven by the targeting of the country's academics, doctors and students.

She is a winner of the BBC World Service's Newsmaker competition which invited young journalists to cover stories important to them.

People quote the statistics about the millions of refugees, but the story of every one of them is a tragedy.

In June 2006, my father was kidnapped, and I became part of the tragedy - and part of the statistic.

I was a student at Baghdad University college of medicine, and due to graduate as a doctor in three years. But the pressure of living in a war-torn city became too much to handle, and we had to leave.

Now, I find myself and my mother in Amman. While my wider family are scattered throughout the world, my sister is back in Baghdad and my father has been missing for more than a year and a half.


The Brussels Tribunal, a European NGO, has issued a list of all the academics and professors who have been killed over the last two years.

The list is 15 pages long.

Just going through the first four pages, I personally recognised about 25 names - names so prominent in Iraqi society, doctors who were members of the Arab Board or the Royal College.

It seems like we are not only prisoners in our own country but prisoners here [in Jordan]

These are not random killings. These people are being specifically targeted and hunted down, day by day.

One of the doctors was my paediatrician when I was a kid. He used to give me sweets when he was examining me if I was crying or scared.

Another name I recognised was that of the president of the University of Baghdad. He was killed in his clinic one day.

Academics are people who wear cardigans and sit in libraries reading books all day. They are not people who carry guns or belong to death squads, and this is what happens to them.

It is simply organised killing of the intelligence and brains of Iraq. It is heartbreaking.

And the effect is a crippling brain drain as those left alive are now forced to flee.

"Lots of professors do not want to leave the country," one student says.

"My mum has been teaching at Baghdad college for more than 15 years. But it is so scary, because two of her colleagues were assassinated within a very short period of time. She had to leave."

Not enough places

We are all here, in Amman, and we cannot go back and practice our chosen jobs.

Iraqi medical students in Amman
Amman has become home to large numbers of Iraqi students

It seems like we are not only prisoners in our own country but prisoners here, as well. There are not enough university places.

We so desperately want to finish our education but nobody seems ready to give us the chance and nobody seems to be willing to help us even though Iraq helped many, many Arab students in the past, providing them with free education.

Other students feel let down by Arab countries.

"I feel like I am some kind of virus," says one. "Everyone is rejecting me and turning me away."

I want to tell everyone left behind in Baghdad that I miss them. They are our heroes.

Newsmakers: Iraq's Brain Drain can be heard on BBC World Service's Newshour programme on Sunday 30 October at 2000 GMT.


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