Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- As-Sa’dun Street (named after former Iraqi Prime Minister Abd al-Muhsin as-Sa’dun following a royal decree) is distinguished as one of the most famous streets in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Teeming with the medical clinics of the most renowned Iraqi doctors, the street is used as a base to practice their profession night and day. However, another street, al Kendi Street (also known as al Harithia Street) is also famous for the number of doctors who practice there by virtue of its location in a quiet and affluent neighborhood in Baghdad.
Despite that al Kendi Street is only a few kilometers long, it is quite popular in the Harithia area, which is famous for its fast-food restaurants. However, the security situation in Iraq has cast its shadow on the street. Gradually, one clinic after another started to close down when the doctors began to leave fearing kidnapping and threats while others departed in search of safety.
Among the prominent doctors forced to leave their country were optometrist and member of the Arab Board of Medical Specializations, Dr. Suha al Beir; surgeon and a member of the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS), Dr Safa al Obeidi; and fellow member of the FRCS and orthopedist Dr. Ziad al Rawi. They are a few of the many who have fled fearing for their lives, especially after the recent kidnapping of Dr. Ali Hadi a few days ago.
Doctors and pharmacists at the clinics visited by Asharq Al Awsat all confirm that the departure of their colleagues was a result of the poor security conditions and that some of them had received threats. Some remained, however, continuing their work in their clinics on a street that is tainted by a sectarian hue but where it does not manifest as the sectarian violence rampant in the country because the families living on the street offer their protection to these doctors, as many have vouched.
When Asharq Al Awsat ventured into al Kendi Street, the first stop was a building where there are various clinics. The building’s doorman, Qais Hamid, asked in amazement, “What do you want? I’m in charge of this building and no one is in.” After explaining I was a journalist, he smiled, reassured, and did not hesitate in unlocking the door and letting me in. The locks are a precautionary measure he takes so as to protect the doctors and their visiting patients.
Qais revealed that the buildings’ porters lock the doors and forbid entrance until they can ascertain that the visitors are expected by the doctors. He added that only dentists leave their clinic doors unlocked on Thursdays and Saturdays because many are bound to the official hours at the state’s hospitals on other days.
Regarding the kidnappings and threats issued on the street, Qais said, “Many doctors have been subjected to threats and abductions in return for money or for the purpose of elimination. Al Harithia has witnessed a real loss with the departure of numerous excellent doctors whose competence and efficiency are rare, and also by virtue of some of their unique specializations. This is especially noticeable because their patients keep visiting continually asking as to their whereabouts despite the clinics being locked.”
Dr. Mustafa Kamel Mohammed, who specializes in dermatology and male fertility, has a buzzing waiting room. He confirmed that there were a number of threats and kidnappings targeting doctors and said, “Diabetes specialist, Dr. Ali Abdel Amir was shot at but was unharmed. After the incident he closed down his clinic.” Mohammed pointed out, “there are a number of things that we take into account before heading out to work because of the deteriorating security conditions, which begs the perplexing question: What will become of us? The situation is one that does not differentiate between killing a doctor and any other person.”
But Abdel Amir’s story is not a unique one. Mohammed recounted fellow Dr Lamiaa al Bayati’s story who used to practice at the clinic next door. She was one of the most renowned gynecologists in Baghdad before she decided to close down her clinic and flee the country after her friends started receiving threats and were being pressured. Mohammed explained that the situation confronting Iraqi doctors who had opted to remain was that they were working shorter hours because of the need to lock doors and the congested streets, which make it difficult to get to work. Add to that the armed confrontations in some areas, which mean they can’t always go to the clinic on a daily basis.
In terms of the Iraqi Medical Association providing temporary solutions in the given circumstances, Dr. Mohammed is critical, he said, “Although we are members at the association, we do not participate in its meetings despite the association being fully aware of what doctors are subjected to of killings, abductions and threats. We haven’t seen the association do anything about that matter. Even when one of the doctors was beheaded in the area surrounding the university nothing happened and the Medical Association didn’t lift a finger to do anything or to take any specific measures.” He added, “Our lives now are at risk at the hands of gangs and militias. We have come to the point of wondering whether the borders are open or closed because travel has become the only recourse to many doctors escaping this miserable situation. We have lost many doctors and the patients have fallen into the hands of doctors who have no experience in this field.”
Regarding the availability of treatment for Iraqi patients, Dr. Mohammed pointed out that, “There is no support back here or abroad, especially internally where it is almost nonexistent,” and added, “A complete substitution must take place, and the building of a legal state and persecuting all who break the law and those who target the Iraqi minds.”
For her part, prosthodontist Dr Sahar Abdel Raziq who specializes in dental technology stressed the hardships involved in getting to- and leaving- her clinic on al Kendi Street. Her morning duties take her to the ‘Bab al-Muazzam’ area, which sees a lot of confrontation, in addition to having several checkpoints and the marked presence of the US troops.
Abdel Raziq told Asharq Al Awsat that, “Al Harithia epitomizes the arduous road despite it being in better condition than the other areas where there are other medical clinics such as as-Sa’dun Street or Mansour Street.” She added, “The good thing is that we continue with our work despite the difficulties and the scarcity of patients. People are afraid to leave their homes because of the security situation, and yet despite all that we still continue our work.” Dr. Abdel Raziq expressed her wish that things return to the way they were and that the government provides services and protects the areas where the medical clinics are.
The final stop on al Kendi Street was at a commercial store in which the resentment caused by the departure of Iraqi doctors was evident, the result of which was that people were left with complicated diseases, without cure. Responding to the question about what was taking place on the streets and the affect this phenomenon had on the Iraqi capital one of the vendors said, “There are no abductions or threats directed at doctors; they left their clinics because of the terrible security situation in search of a place that is more stable.” He pointed out that many had left the country prior to the advent of the Americans and before the former regime fell. He said, “Were they threatened? It’s all fabricated,” to which one of the shop customers objected and said, “I have been in this area for 30 years and the situation now is worse than before. Many doctors have been subjected to threats and kidnappings and even killing,” stressing upon the importance of not concealing the painful facts pertaining to al Harithia street.