Saturday, September 02, 2006

Iraqi Passport Offices Are Doing a Brisk Business

Knight-Ridder has an article about one of the most popular items to have in Iraq these days: a valid passport [see Update below]:

Shortly after 9 on a recent morning, the line at the passport office in Baghdad's Mansour neighborhood stretched out to several hundred people, with three or four lines morphing into two to get into the building.

The temperature had climbed into the 80s, on its way to 115. Babies were red-faced from crying, and men were arguing, setting a mood of desperation. Some had violated curfew, arriving in line at 5 a.m. Still, they weren't assured of getting their passport paperwork completed - the passport office can process only 100 applications a day and it closes faithfully, like any good bureaucracy, at 2 p.m.

In a country where the economy is in tatters, electricity outages happen daily, violence is widespread and seemingly random, and sectarian militias have killed thousands, Iraq's passport offices are doing booming business - a barometer of the rising anxiety and weariness besetting Iraqis.

Government officials say they have no numbers on how many passports have been issued or how many people have left Iraq recently. They dismiss the idea that thousands of Iraqis are fleeing the country, suggesting instead that the crowds at the passport offices reflect nothing more than a seasonal interest in getting away from the heat.

"I do not think the Iraqis are emigrating. They are people who cherish their country," said Ali al Dabagh, a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

But interviews suggest that increasing numbers of Iraqis - particularly the remaining middle class and the poor who can scrape together the $28 fee - are hedging their bets by having passports at the ready. Others are obtaining their documents and immediately fleeing the country.

Haifa Saleh, a primary-school teacher, said she and her husband recently updated their passports - he was renewing his; hers was her first. She said the Rusafa office in eastern Baghdad was chaotic, and one official threatened to tear up everyone's papers if they didn't stay in line.

"After discussing it with his family, my husband and I decided that everyone should have his passport ready just in case something really bad happens and we have to leave the country," she said.

Here's the funniest part: That's exactly why I keep my passport current.

UPDATE: It seems that Kurdistan is benefiting from Iraq's brain drain.

Via Cursor.

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