BAGHDAD (IRIN) - Nearly 150 doctors in Basra, Iraq's second largest city about 600km south of Baghdad, began a three-day strike on 23 July, demanding the government protect them and their families.
"We will not attend our clinics and will not do operations for three days to draw to the government's attention our plight as doctors living in harsh conditions," said Dr Muaid Jumaa, head of the Basra Doctors' Association.
Jumaa said 12 doctors had been killed in Basra by unidentified gunmen since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, and dozens of others had fled the city.
"We are protesting against the assassinations, kidnappings, threats and blackmail facing doctors in Basra and calling on the government to shoulder its responsibilities in protecting this important sector of our society," Jumaa said.
"The government has to improve the security situation in the province and this is not hard," he continued.
"We call on the government and parliament to adopt laws to protect doctors. Tough punishments should be meted out to those who threaten, kidnap and kill doctors."
According to figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry released earlier this year, 618 medical employees, including 132 doctors, as well as medics and other health care workers, have been killed nationwide since 2003. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of other medical personnel are believed to have fled to Iraq's northern semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and neighboring countries.
Iraqi medical personnel have adopted their own security measures to stay safe.
For nearly two years now, dentist Mohammed Adil Tawfiq has not been moving a meter without his two bodyguards, after three of his best friends were killed by unidentified gunmen.
"I have no confidence in government security forces and since I can't afford to leave the country, I've decided to employ two bodyguards," said Tawfiq, a 44-year-old father of three.
"No one seems to be concerned about our plight or offered us protection and that's why I've decided to take this step. Of course, I've had to fork out a huge chunk of my income to pay for them," said Tawfiq, who refused to divulge his salary.
"This is not at all in the government's interests because those who can leave will leave, and this will affect the provision of health services," he added.
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