Why Iraqi COVID doctors fear for their safety

Iraqi doctor Tarik Al-Sheibani now regrets the day he became a doctor.

Since a dozen relatives of a patient, who had just died of COVID-19, beat him unconscious. He just remembers cowering on the ground.

Around two hours later the 47-year-old director of Al-Amal Hospital in the southern city of Najaf woke up in a different clinic - covered in bruises.

"A person behind me yelled: 'This is the head of the hospital, go attack him.' I stopped, I didn't have any issues with them, so I stopped and looked around to find a group of people, more than 15-20 people, they started attacking me for absolutely no reason."

Where health professionals are being celebrated in most countries around the world - Sheibani and his peers are frightened for their safety.

He is one of many doctors struggling to do their job - as COVID-19 cases begin to spike in Iraq.

They are working within a health service that has been left to decay through years of civil conflict and underfunding.

And they now face the added threat of physical attack by grieving, desperate families.

Iraq's Medical Association has described a growing pattern of assaults on medical staff.

Dozens have taken place since the pandemic began.

"I am scared, I am very scared, very scared that they might attack me or my family again. But I have faith in the Iraqi justice system and the Iraqi police. God willing, they will protect my rights."

Sheibani's beating went viral when CCTV footage of the incident circulated online.

He says the family of the deceased patient blamed his staff for the death, despite the patient arriving at the hospital in a critical condition.

"I regret the day I became an Iraqi doctor; I hate the day. Unfortunately, my education, my service, the service to my people and community was all for nothing. But then I go back and think, not everyone is like that, there are many people who deserve to be cared for."

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has condemned the attacks against medical staff and promised to hold perpetrators to account.

But doctors say the government has not taken tough enough action to protect them from violence, which they have faced for years, even before the pandemic began.

Video Transcript

- Iraqi doctor Tarik Al-Sheibani now regrets the day he became a doctor since a dozen relatives of a patient who had just died of COVID-19 beats him unconscious. He just remembers cowering on the ground. Around two hours later, the 47-year-old director of Al-Amal Hospital in the southern city of Najaf woke up in a different clinic, covered in bruises.

INTERPRETER: A person behind me yelled, this is the head of the hospital, go attack him! I didn't have any issue with them, so I stopped and looked around to find a group of people, more than 15 or 20 people. They started attacking me for absolutely no reason.

- Where health professionals are being celebrated in most countries around the world, Sheibani and his peers are frightened for their safety. He is one of many doctors struggling to do their job as COVID-19 cases begin to spike in Iraq.

They are working within a health service that has been left to decay through years of civil conflict and underfunding. And they now face the added threat of physical attack by grieving, desperate families. Iraq's medical association has described a growing pattern of assaults on medical staff. Dozens have taken place since the pandemic began.

TARIK AL-SHEIBANI: [SPEAKING ARABIC]

INTERPRETER: I am scared. I am very scared, very scared they might attack me or my family again. But I have faith in the Iraqi justice system and the Iraqi police. God willing, they will protect my rights.

TARIK AL-SHEIBANI: [SPEAKING ARABIC]

- Sheibani's beating went viral when CCTV footage of the incident circulated online. He says the family of the deceased patient blamed his staff for the death despite the patient arriving at the hospital in a critical condition.

INTERPRETER: I regret the day I became an Iraqi doctor I hate the day, my education, my service, the service to my people and community. Then I go back and think, not everyone is like that there are many people who deserve to be cared for.

MUSTAFA AL-KADHIMI: [SPEAKING ARABIC]

- Prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has condemned the attacks against medical staff and promised to hold perpetrators to account.

MUSTAFA AL-KADHIMI: [SPEAKING ARABIC]

- But doctors say the government has not taken tough enough action to protect them from violence, which they have faced for years, even before the pandemic began.