Video: Iraqis leave the country in droves

By Richard Engel Chief foreign correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/13/2006 7:14:28 PM ET 2006-10-13T23:14:28

Baghdad's main passport agency is the office of last resort. It's so crowded with Iraqis who want to leave, the government ordered it to stay open seven days a week.

Haifa and Hassan Rubaiee, both professors at Baghdad University, have their passports. They're packing to move to Syria, joining what the government said this week are 1 million Iraqis who have left since the war.

Like many, the Rubaiees have good reason: Their 13-year-old son was kidnapped. Haifa sold her jewelry to pay the $12,000 ransom, but he was tortured and hanged anyway.

"My son [was] like a flower," she says, "and they killed him in a horrible, horrible way."

Others families never make it out. A Shiite family was packing a truck to leave, when an NBC News cameraman drove by. He saw Sunni insurgents gun down the family and burn the vehicle; his hands shaking as he filmed.

And the exodus is ruining Iraq's economy. Real estate agent Salih Mahdi showed me just one of dozens of listings for sale. The price on one house has been lowered six times, and still no takers.

Instead, people now try to save $3-4,000 and head to a Baghdad bus station. Seven hundred fifty people left in one recent day for Syria and Jordan. 

After the fall of Baghdad, Maysoon Damlouji left London and returned home. Now a parliament member, she is worried Iraq is losing its middle class.

"It started off with university professors, doctors, engineers, but now it has got to the bakers and the hairdressers," she says.

And restaurant owners. Salim Dakhouk moved his cooks and waiters to Amman, Jordan's "Little Baghdad" neighborhood.

At dinner Friday night, the customers were all Iraqis. And Dakhouk expects more will be coming tomorrow.

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