AN IRAQI doctor at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary is returning to his homeland for the first time in 19 years.
Dr Safa Kaftan, who works in the hospital's accident and emergency unit, left Iraq in 1984 to study for postgraduate qualifications in England.
He is to return to Iraq for three weeks in the new year and hopes to help rebuild the country's medical education system.
"I am planning to take some journals and medical textbooks with me," said Dr Kaftan, a graduate of Baghdad University.
During the past 25 years, hospitals and clinics in Iraq have been damaged or destroyed and medical services almost collapsed.
The British Medical Association, the doctors' union, passed a motion at its annual conference this year to help doctors working in Iraq and in reconstructing the country's health care system.
Dr Kaftan, 47, of Birkby, secretary of the BMA's Huddersfield division, said: "The Iraqi medical system is based on the British model, not the American one, as Iraq is a former British colony.
"The majority of medical students come to England rather than America for their postgraduate studies."
About 4,000 Iraqi doctors work in the UK, including about 10 in Huddersfield and Halifax hospitals.
Before the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq had a well-established health care system and doctors' training scheme.
"We are now trying to encourage the Royal Colleges of Medicine, through the BMA to get the system back again," said Dr Kaftan.
Health standards in Iraq are low because of poor sanitary conditions. Also, many endemic diseases have been made worse by the effects of war and a United Nations embargo on goods going into Iraq.
In the late 1980s the average life expectancy was about 64, but by 1991 had fallen to 46 for men and 57 for women.
It is estimated that a quarter of children are suffering from malnutrition and there is an estimated 85% shortfall in medical supplies.
"Two ambulances in Baghdad serve the whole country," said Dr Kaftan. "There is nothing outside Baghdad.
"The Iraqi people are suffering because there are no operations, no pathology laboratory, no incubators, nothing."
Dr Kaftan was born in Najaf, 80 miles south of Baghdad. His mother, five brothers, and two sisters still live in Iraq.
Dr Kaftan, who is married with two boys, opposed the war with Iraq and felt there were better ways of deposing Saddam without fighting.
He has spoken to his mother by mobile phone.
"People are still not very happy about the security situation, especially in Baghdad, although it is better in the south," he added.
Dr Kaftan felt the Iraqis were unhappy with the occupying army, but he believed the British troops were more welcome than their American comrades, because of their friendlier attitude.
"Iraqis are not used to an occupying force," he said.
Dr Kaftan has seen his relatives in the past 19 years and met his mother in Syria last year.
"My parents were able to get out of the country with extreme difficulty, but it was advisable for me not go to there, as it may have been difficult to leave. They have had 30 years of suffering, corruption and poverty.
"They have been denied any human rights. That affects the personality and the thinking of the people.
"Saddam is a ruthless man."
Dr Kaftan said he had been afraid to publicly speak out against him, even in England.
"It could have been passed on from Western security services to him. I know people who have been detained because messages were passed from Western security services to Saddam's men.
"He was very close to MI5 and the Government in the 1970s and 1980s.
"I was asked by the BMA to speak against him and they would support me.
"I said I would speak on behalf of Iraqi children, not against Saddam Hussein - because I still have family there and I was afraid of him hurting them."
Dr Kaftan did not expect that Iraq would become a fundamentalist Islamic country.
About 95% of the population is Muslim, with about 70% adhering to the Shiism creed and the rest to the Sunni beliefs.
"I am a Shiite, but it is a different type of Shiite to that in Iran. It is a different type of mentality and thinking," added Dr Kaftan.
"If there is a Shiite government in Iraq there will be 30% of the population, the Sunnis, opposing them."
He added: "Iraq was the richest country in the Middle East. The health service was very good and foreign lecturers visited.
"I hope that at least they can hand the rule over to Iraqi people. If the Americans can leave them alone they can rebuild their country.
"It is not like Afghanistan. Iraq is a rich country. We have had enough suffering and war.
"People now want to be left in peace."