Iraqi hospitals in the firing line
Dahr Jamail – 30th June, 2005
Iraqi doctors say they have been harassed, beaten, threatened and sometimes even attacked by US and US-backed Iraqi forces during recent military adventures in al-Qa’im and Haditha.
Their testimony bears witness to a horrific standard operating procedure of collective punishment against the Iraqi people.
Interference by the US military and outright hostility towards medical workers in Iraq appears to have become the norm.
This intrusion most often takes the form of soldiers entering hospitals to interrogate or detain alleged resistance fighters.
But during major assaults by US forces—such as the levelling of the city of Fallujah last November—it becomes sharper and more deadly.
US forces entered Fallujah General Hospital, the city’s only healthcare facility for trauma victims, in November shortly after razing the nearby Nazzal Emergency Hospital to the ground.
There they detained employees and patients alike. Water and electricity supplies were cut off, ambulances confiscated, and surgeons—without exception—kept out of the besieged city, according to medics on the scene.
The US military occupied Fallujah General Hospital throughout the massacre of the city. Ambulances were deliberately targeted by US forces.
Burhan Fasa’a, a cameraman with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, witnessed the first eight days of the fighting.
“I entered Fallujah near the Julan Quarter, which is near the General Hospital,” he said during an interview in Baghdad. “There were American snipers on top of the hospital who were shooting everyone in sight.”
The Iraqi Red Crescent had to wait a full week before being permitted to dispatch three ambulances into the city.
Similar testimony emerged from hospitals in other cities during the same period. In Amiriyat al-Fallujah, a village some ten kilometres east of Fallujah, doctors say the main hospital was raided twice by US soldiers and members of the Iraqi National Guard.
“The first time was 29 November at 5.40am, and the second time was the following day,” said one doctor at the hospital, who did not want to give his real name for fear of US reprisals.
A second doctor, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that all of the doors of the clinics inside the same hospital were kicked in.
“The Americans have snipers all along the road between here and Fallujah,” he added. “They shoot our ambulances if they try to go to Fallujah.”
Another glaring example of the US military impeding the medical care of Iraqis occurred during the earlier siege of Fallujah in April 2004.
Doctors from Fallujah General Hospital, as well as others who worked in clinics throughout the city during the US siege, reported that US Marines obstructed their services and that US snipers intentionally targeted their clinics and ambulances.
“The Marines said they didn’t close the hospital—but essentially that’s what they did,” said Dr Abdulla, an orthopedic surgeon at Fallujah General Hospital who spoke on condition of using a false name.
“They closed the bridge which connects us to the city and closed our road. The area in front of our hospital was full of their soldiers and vehicles.”
This procedure prevented countless patients who desperately needed medical care from receiving it, he added. “Who knows how many of them died that we could have saved.”
He also blamed the US military for shooting at civilian ambulances and shooting near the clinic where he worked. “Some days we couldn’t leave or even go near the door because of the snipers. They were shooting at the front door of the clinic.”
A doctor at al-Kerkh Hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, shared a similar experience of the problem that appears to be rampant throughout much of the country.
“We hear of Americans removing wounded Iraqis from hospitals. They are always coming here and asking us if we have injured fighters.”
The World Health Organisation last year warned of a health emergency in Baghdad, and throughout Iraq, if current conditions persist.
Iraq’s ministry of health claims to have received promises of over $1 billion in US funding. Officials say they have delivered more drugs, better equipment and a generalised improvement in healthcare.
Yet doctors on the ground see no such improvement. Hospitals in Iraq continue to face chronic shortages of medicine, equipment and staff under the failed US-led occupation.
In April 2004, an International Committee for the Red Cross report noted that hospitals in Iraq were overwhelmed with new patients, short of medicine and supplies, and lacking adequate electricity and water.
Ample testimony from medical practitioners confirms this crisis. Dr Thamiz Aziz Abul Rahman is a general practitioner in the prosthetics workshop of Baghdad’s al-Kena Hospital.
“Eleven months ago we submitted an emergency order for prosthetic materials to the ministry of health — and still we have nothing,” he said. “This is worse than even during the sanctions.”
At Fallujah General Hospital, another doctor adds that there has been virtually no assistance for the stricken clinic from foreign contractors. Regarding the US military he commented, “They send only bombs — not medicine.”
Dahr Jamail has compiled a 38-page report on the experience of Iraqi hospitals under occupation for the World Tribunal on Iraq. To download a copy go to www.dahrjamailiraq.com
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Last updated 06/07/2005