By Aseel Kami
BAGHDAD, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Iraqi doctors would be allowed to carry weapons under a law approved by the cabinet on Sunday to help protect physicians subjected to kidnapping, murder and tribal demands for blood money from relatives of dead patients.
The law, which must still be passed by parliament, could help prevent doctors from fleeing war-shattered Iraq and encourage those abroad to come back.
Many doctors, particularly in the south, complain about a tribal tradition where the family of a patient who dies while in a doctor's care demands payment.
The draft law foresees a possible prison sentence of three years or a fine of no less than 10 million Iraqi dinars (around $8,000) against anyone who demands a tribal settlement from a doctor.
"The draft law is a gesture from the Iraqi government for doctors and specialists ... to protect them from attacks and the tribal demands resulting from their medical work," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.
Doctors fled Iraq by the thousands during the explosion of violence between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs in the years following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Considered among the elite of Iraqi society, medical specialists became a target for insurgents, militias and kidnappers in search of rich ransoms. Hundreds have been killed since 2003.
The law would also allow the government to lift Iraq's usual retirement age of 63 and let doctors work until 70 if they are needed, and to build residential compounds for physicians near hospitals and other health institutions. (Reporting by Aseel Kami, editing by Jim Loney and Noah Barkin)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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