"We are living in a big cage," said Azhar Husayn, an Iraqi accountant who wants to travel abroad to look for work.

 

"That's how I felt when I went to the immigration department in Baghdad. They told me that no passports were available and I'd have to wait until further notice," she said.

 

During Saddam Hussein's rule certain groups of Iraqis, such as army personnel and post-graduate degree holders, were banned from travelling abroad for security reasons and to prevent a brain drain.

 

Immigration departments across Iraq were extremely attractive to looters after Baghdad fell on 9 April 2003. Thousands of passport books and stamps were stolen and remain missing.

 

The Iraqi authorities have been unable to issue new passports or use the passport books that survived the looting. Only those holding valid passports issued before the invasion are able to travel.

 

Hasanayn Hadi Fadhil, the third secretary of the Iraqi Embassy in Doha, told Aljazeera.net they were not currently issuing new passports.

 

"We are only extending Iraqi passports for two or four years. As for new passports, they are not available at present," he said.

 

"We do not know when we shall receive new passport books. A passport is a sign of sovereignty; issuing new passports will be sorted out when an Iraqi government takes office," he said.

 

Travel documents

 

The occupation authorities have started to issue interim travel documents for Iraqis who want to travel abroad. The document is valid for one trip and is accepted only in Syria and Jordan.

 

Iraqis compete to apply for
interim
travel documents 

"In the past we had to pay $200 to get a passport," says Abd al-Majid Abd al-Rahman, an engineer who wants to work in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

 

"It was a relatively high fee, but at least we could have passports whenever we wanted," he said.

 

He travelled to Jordan with the document issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to find himself stuck. 

 

"I want to go to Dubai. There are no jobs in Iraq. But I can't because I don't have a passport. We don't even know when we shall be able to get passports," he said. 

 

Fadhil confirmed that Qatar, like the UAE, does not accept the interim travel document issued by the CPA. "We contacted the immigration department in Doha and they do not accept the interim travel document", he said.

 

One Aljazeera reporter in Baghdad, Abd al-Adhim Muhammad, said the lack of passports was the main contributing factor to increasing unemployment in Iraq. "A lot of professional Iraqis are willing to travel abroad to look for job opportunities, but they are trapped because they cannot get passports." 

 

Treatment abroad

 

Aljazeera.net spoke to Ayad al-Wattar, a retired army officer living in Baghdad who said he now wanted to travel abroad to get medical care for his wife.

 

"My wife is ill and needs special treatment. We want to go to the US where she has a brother, but we are unable to because we do not have passports," he said. "We were hoping for a better life, now we are very disappointed."

 

Al-Wattar added: "They promised us that the new passports would be ready with the release of the new Iraqi banknotes, but that simply did not happen."

 

The authorities in Iraq have linked the resumption of passport issuing to the installation of a new Iraqi government, but the question remains whether or not Iraqis will be willing - and able - to wait that long to get their basic rights.