" Universal Community of Friends - Iraqi Hospitals Offer Snapshot of Iraq War Horror

Iraqi Hospitals Offer Snapshot of War Horror


Sun April 6, 2003 07:49 AM ET
By Samia Nakhoul

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Ali Ismaeel Abbas, 12, was fast asleep when war shattered his life. A missile obliterated his home and most of his family, leaving him orphaned, badly burned and blowing off both his arms.

"It was midnight when the missile fell on us. My father, my mother and my brother died. My mother was five months pregnant," the traumatized boy told Reuters at Baghdad's Kindi hospital.

"Our neighbors pulled me out and brought me here. I was unconscious," he said on Sunday.

In addition to the tragedy of losing his parents, he faces the horror of living handicapped. Thinking about his uncertain future he timidly asked whether he could get artificial arms.

"Can you help get my arms back? Do you think the doctors can get me another pair of hands?" Abbas asked. "If I don't get a pair of hands I will commit suicide," he said with tears spilling down his cheeks.

His aunt, three cousins and three other relatives staying with them were also killed in this week's missile strikes on their house in Diala Bridge district east of Baghdad.

"We didn't want war. I was scared of this war," said Abbas. "Our house was just a poor shack, why did they want to bomb us?" said the young boy, unaware that the area in which he lived was surrounded by military installations.

With a childhood lost and a future clouded by disaster and disability, Abbas poured his heart out as he lay in bed with an improvised wooden cage over his chest to stop his burned flesh touching the bed covers.

"I wanted to become an army officer when I grow up, but not anymore. Now I want to become a doctor, but how can I? I don't have hands," he said.

His aunt, Jamila Abbas, 53, looked after him, feeding him, washing him, comforting him with prayers and repeatedly telling him his parents had gone to heaven.

DAILY HORROR

Abbas' suffering offered one snapshot of the daily horrors afflicting Iraqi civilians in the devastating U.S.-led war to remove President Saddam Hussein.

At the Kindi hospital, staff were overwhelmed by the sharp rise in casualties since U.S. ground troops moved north to Baghdad on Thursday and intensified their aerial assault.

Ambulance after ambulance raced in with casualties from around the capital. Victim after victim was rushed in, many carried in bed sheets after the stretchers ran out. Doctors struggled to find them beds.

Staff had no time even to clean the blood from trolleys.

Patients' screams and parents' cries echoed across the ward.

With many staff unable to reach the hospital due to the bombing, doctors worked round the clock performing surgery, taking blood, giving injections and ferrying the wounded.

Doctor Osama Saleh al-Duleimi, an orthopedic surgeon and assistant director at Kindi, said they were overloaded and suffering shortages of anesthesia, pain killers and staff.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been touring hospitals to provide first aid and surgery kits.

"So far hospitals had equipment and medicine to cope but were overwhelmed by the sheer number of casualties coming in at the same time. During fierce bombardment, hospitals received up to 100 casualties per hour," ICRC spokesman Roland Huguenin-Benjamin told Reuters on Sunday.

He said hospitals were well-organized and were so far coping, but voiced concern in case the fighting dragged on.

WORST CASUALTIES

Doctors who treated Iraqi victims of two previous wars say they are taken aback by the injuries they have seen. Most suffered massive trauma and fatal wounds, including head, abdominal and limb injuries from lethal weapons, they said.

"I've been a doctor for 25 years and this is the worst I've seen in terms of the number of casualties and fatal wounds," said Duleimi, 48, who witnessed the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait.

"This is a disaster because they're attacking civilians. We are receiving a lot of civilian casualties," he added.

Washington says it has tried to minimize civilian casualties in its war to oust Saddam but doctors insist many of the victims are civilians caught in aerial and artillery bombardment.

There is no independent figure for casualties but hospital sources put them at hundreds of dead and thousands of wounded.

"This war is more destructive than all the previous wars. In the previous battles, the weapons seemed merely disabling; now they're much more lethal," Doctor Sadek al-Mukhtar said.

"Before the war I did not regard America as my enemy. Now I do. There are the military and there are the civilians. War should be against the military. America is killing civilians."

 

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