Page last updated at 09:52 GMT, Tuesday, 30 September 2008 10:52 UK

Iraqi doctors to be allowed guns

Iraqi medic treats victim of bombing September 2008
Some doctors say 80% of Iraq's medics have left since the invasion

The Iraqi government says it will allow doctors to carry guns for self-defence.

The decision follows complaints by medical workers and other professionals that they have been repeatedly targeted by criminals and militants.

Iraqi doctors say almost 200 of their colleagues have been killed since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Many others have been kidnapped by groups seeking ransoms. Thousands more have fled the country, although reports say some are starting to return.

Some estimates suggest that as many as 80% of Iraq's medical workers have left in the last five-and-a-half years.

Criminal gangs

Some of the kidnappings and killings have been carried out by criminal gangs seeking ransoms for people they perceive to be wealthy.

I think it will not help because I do not know how to shoot, and have never used a gun. I don't think I will carry a weapon
Ahmed Sabeeh
Iraqi surgeon

Other attacks may have had sectarian motives or been part of power struggles between rival militias.

But in many cases doctors have received anonymous threats, unaware of who is behind them.

In recent months, the Iraqi government has been stepping up efforts to persuade the country's professionals to return.

The government has increased salaries for doctors and has spoken of building housing for them in new medical complexes.

Several hundred doctors are reported to have gone back in the past few months.

Iraqi doctors raised the idea of carrying guns during a conference in Baghdad in June on the dangers they faced, according to Adel Muhsin, a senior health ministry official.

A surgeon at a hospital in the north-western city of Tal Afar, Ahmed Sabeeh, told the Associated Press news agency the right to carry a gun would make no difference to him.

"Such decision has come very late - after dozens of doctors were killed," Dr Sabeeh said.

"I think it will not help because I do not know how to shoot, and have never used a gun. I don't think I will carry a weapon."

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