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Begging could mean jail under new Iraqi decree

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- People caught begging in public places will be imprisoned for one to three months under a new decree issued by President Saddam Hussein, the state-run newspaper reported Sunday.

The decree, published in Al-Jumhuriya, states that "a punishment of one to three months in prison will be applied if the person, over 18 years of age, is caught soliciting in public places."Saddam's decree calls for punishment to be increased to one year in prison in cases where "the solicitor made up a defect or a handicap or any means of cheating to make his job easier."

Prior to the 1991 gulf war, begging was a rare sight in Iraq. But U.N. sanctions have forced some to turn to the streets to earn their living.

In Baghdad -- and even in the smallest country town -- young and old alike solicit money or food from passers-by. Some display disfiguring handicaps or open wounds; others reach with dirty hands for money from houses or cars stopped at red lights.

"We cannot beg in (our hometown) because we may meet some of the people we know," said a man soliciting money at an intersection.