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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs
31 January 2006

IRAQ: Higher education ministry tempts professionals with security, higher salaries

BBAGHDAD, 31 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - After an exodus of professionals from the country in the wake of the US-led invasion, the government has launched a campaign aimed at luring them back with offers of personal security and higher salaries.

"We need them to return because their absence is affecting the future of the country and leading to a reduction of skilled labour,” said Khalid Zuheir, a senior official at the Ministry of Higher Education. “Without them, the country will just deteriorate more."

“We need them urgently to improve the quality of national services,” Zuheir added. “We’ll offer security and better salaries to get them back.”

According to a study released last week, 40 percent of the nation’s professionals have fled Iraq since April 2003, mostly due to threats from unidentified sources. The report noted that an average of between 40 and 60 professionals had left Iraq every day over the course of the same period.

Dr Abbas Kubaissy, a neurologist, fled the country two weeks ago after receiving several threats.

“I didn’t have a choice,” said Kubaissy, briefly in Baghdad to gather his possessions before departing. “In the last letter, they said they would target my children.”

Zuheir noted that “obscure political groups” regularly kidnapped lawyers, doctors, professors and businessmen in the hopes of securing substantial ransoms.

Local authorities report that hundreds of Iraqis have been kidnapped in the last three years, especially those working for organisations linked to the US military or in professions associated with high incomes, such as medicine and teaching.

Joost Hilterman, Middle East project director for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said that anyone with money – Iraqi or foreign – is viewed by kidnappers as a “valuable asset”.

According to interior ministry sources, more than 90 percent of kidnappings of professionals are carried out by specialised gangs seeking ransom money.

“We’ve captured at least 30 people involved in such gangs, and we’ll reach the bosses step by step,” said Col Hassan al-Din, the ministry’s chief investigator.

Al-Din complained that it was impossible for police to offer total security and called on the government to employ more private security companies. “If they spent some money, they could keep professionals safe,” he said.

In an effort to entice voluntary exiles back to Iraq, Zuheir said his ministry had established a budget to pay for higher salaries and personal security for professors, as well as doctors and engineers working for the government.

Such qualified professionals would be provided with at least two security guards and transportation, he said, adding that salaries for professors would be raised by 30 percent.

The generous package, however, is not enough to persuade Kubaissy.

“I wish I could be in Iraq to help my brothers,” he said. “But with the insecurity and such bad salaries, it’s better to keep safe outside and plan to return again one day.”



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006

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