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Iraqis Stand in Line for Long-Awaited Passports - 2004-07-09

Thousands of people line up in sweltering heat each day at the Baghdad passport office, waiting for their chance to obtain the prized travel document.

In what can only be described as controlled chaos, hundreds of Iraqis show up each day at one of the five passport offices in Baghdad, hoping to get the documents they need to get out of the country.

Senior officials of the interim government estimate that as many as one million Iraqis have obtained passports, since they became available late last year. And that number is growing by about 10,000 each week.

Most people show up early in the morning, and stand for hours in sweltering heat, hoping to get their hands on what many see as their ticket to safety and a better future.

Amin Mustafa, 24, says he wants to leave Iraq to find a job somewhere - anywhere - else.

"I want to leave my land. I want to go to any land," he said. "I want to find a job, and I want to work. We have no jobs here."

Kotaba Tanoon, who is 22, has received a college scholarship in India to study chemistry. He says he wants to leave Baghdad, so he can finally work in a real laboratory.

"There is no lab, no anything," he said. "No instrumentation here in the college."

Baydar Rozak says she is an athlete who wants to train in Dubai, where she believes it will be much safer. Ms. Rozak says people don't want to leave their own country. But, she says the difficulties in Iraq make it too much to bear, and she wants to feel safe. She says she isn't sure if she will ever return.

Former college economics professor Saad Mohammed Aboud says he is tired of feeling afraid, and wants to go to Tunis to visit his brother. Mr. Aboud says he thinks all of the educated people of Iraq should leave and hand the country over to the terrorists. That way, he says, they will quickly prove to the world that terrorists are failures.

The man who runs the passport office in central Baghdad, Abdul Hakim Aboud, says he issues about 1,250 passports each week.

Mr. Aboud says all Iraqis want to get a passport, because they couldn't under the regime of Saddam Hussein. He says, 500 people show up at his office each day, but he has time to issue only about 150 passports.

Mr. Aboud says he is not surprised by the large numbers. Iraqis, he says, are no different than anyone else. They just want to experience freedom and security.