Iraq's government is allowing doctors to carry guns to protect themselves from violence that has often targeted them since the 2003 war.

Authorities say each physician will be allowed to carry one weapon. The government's decision was announced Monday in a statement.

About 8,000 physicians have abandoned jobs at government health centers in the past five years. Most have sought refuge abroad, while a few hundred have left for the relative safety of Iraq's Kurdish region.

Their departure has further crippled a health care system plagued by corruption, mismanagement and a lack of equipment and drugs.

Since 2003, at least 620 Iraqi medical professionals, including 134 doctors, have been killed and many more threatened.