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Iraqi Cabinet Approves Bill To Protect Doctors

Iraqi doctors treat a child wounded by a roadside bomb.

Iraqi doctors treat a child wounded by a roadside bomb.

BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi cabinet has approved a bill designed to protect doctors against terror attacks and other dangerous assaults, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the bill sent by the cabinet to parliament for a vote allows doctors to carry small weapons with a license from the Interior Ministry for their personal protection.

Deputy Health Minister Amir al-Khuzae told RFI that apart from securing a safe working environment for doctors void of attacks by insurgent groups or criminals, "the bill also offers protection against assaults by tribesmen and relatives of patients who die in clinics and hospitals for a variety of causes."

Khuzae pointed out that "such assaults were especially frequent before the marked improvement in security" in recent years.

But it is still not uncommon in Iraq for a patient's clansmen to accuse a doctor of being responsible for the death of a relative and then demanding blood money as compensation. Doctors are also assaulted by a patient's relatives for keeping them waiting or some other alleged negligence.

The bill would punish people who make baseless claims against a doctor's work or a diagnosis stemming from conservative tribal traditions and conventions with a fine of some $8,670 and no less than three years in prison.

Al-Khuzae said the bill is also designed to encourage Iraqi doctors who have fled the country to return by offering them a host of incentives, including houses near their workplace.

Mustafa al-Hiti, a member of the parliament's Health and Environment Committee, said that more than 7,000 doctors have left Iraq since 2003, including virtually all of the most-experienced physicians.

Security spokesman Major General Qassim Atta has said that about 500 of those doctors have so far returned as a result of improved security.