Ali Hameed quit his job as a taxi driver because he no longer felt safe on Baghdad’s streets. Increasingly desperate for money to help him get married, he hit on a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity – selling one of his kidneys.

Last week, in a shabby ward in the city’s Al Karama hospital, he lay bandaged on a bed, one kidney lighter and $1,400 (about £765) richer after a three-hour operation.  

In a nearby room, his body similarly bandaged, lay the man who had paid for it – the other player in a grim new black market trade in organs that is one of Iraq’s few growth industries.

“I abandoned my taxi driving job because of the security situation,” Mr Hameed, 22, told The Sunday Telegraph. “I thought about joining the police or the army, but that is even more dangerous.

Mr Hameed received a good price for his kidney. Would-be buyers with an eye for a bargain can now pick up a new kidney for as little as $700, given the desperation of fit and healthy Iraqis for money.

Young men like Mr Hameed can be seen loitering around many big hospitals in Baghdad these days, open to bids passed on via networks of shadowy middlemen who lurk in nearby cafés.

With unemployment in Iraq at about 60 per cent, the chance to earn money by touting body parts is a more calculated risk than, say, becoming a $150-a-month rookie policeman…

In 2001, the going rate for a donor was $2,000. The fact that the price has tumbled, some doctors say, suggests that Iraqis are even more desperate for money now than they were under Saddam.

“It wasn’t easy two or three years ago to find a donor,” said a senior nurse at another Baghdad hospital. “Now patients’ relatives need to make no big effort.”


Like menthol on a cold sore, stories like this are just the ticket for Americans tired of hearing bad news from Iraq. While Saddam’s brutal regime deprived the Iraqi people of the benefits of a free market that rewards risk-takers and entrepreneurs, thanks to the Resolve of the American people, today Hameed is just one of many Mesopotamians with good reason to shout out a grateful “Thank you, Uncle Sam!”