It was a scene from the Crimean War; a hospital of screaming wounded
and floors running with blood. I stepped in the stuff; it stuck to my
shoes, to the clothes of all the doctors in the packed emergency room,
it swamped the passageways and the blankets and sheets.
The Iraqi civilians and soldiers
brought to the Adnan Khairallah Martyr Hospital in the last hours of
Saddam Hussein's regime yesterday sometimes still clinging to
are the dark side of victory and defeat; final proof, like the
dead who are buried within hours, that war is about the total failure
of the human spirit. As I wandered amid the beds and the groaning men
and women lying on them Dante's visit to the circles of hell should
have included these visions the same old questions recurred. Was
this for 11 September? For human rights? For weapons of mass destruction?
In a jammed corridor, I came
across a middle-aged man on a soaked hospital trolley. He had a head
wound which was almost indescribable. From his right eye socket hung
a handkerchief that was streaming blood on to the floor. A little girl
lay on a filthy bed, one leg broken, the other so badly gouged out
by shrapnel during an American air attack that the only way doctors
could prevent her moving it was to tie her foot to a rope weighed down
with concrete blocks.
Her name was Rawa Sabri. And
as I walked through this place of horror, the American shelling began
to bracket the Tigris river outside, bringing back to the wounded the
terror of death which they had suffered only hours before. The road
bridge I had just crossed to reach the hospital came under fire and
clouds of cordite smoke drifted over the medical center. Tremendous
explosions shook the wards and corridors as doctors pushed shrieking
children away from the windows.
Florence Nightingale never
reached this part of the old Ottoman Empire. But her equivalent is
Dr Khaldoun al-Baeri, the director and chief surgeon, a gently-spoken
man who has slept an hour a day for six days and who is trying to save
the lives of more than a hundred souls a day with one generator and
half his operating theatres out of use
you cannot carry patients in your arms to the 16th floor when
they are coughing blood.
Dr Baeri speaks like a sleepwalker,
trying to describe how difficult it is to stop a wounded man or woman
from suffocating when they have been wounded in the thorax, explaining
that after four operations to extract metal from the brains of his
patients, he is almost too tired to think, let alone in English. As
I leave him, he tells me that he does not know where his family is.
"Our house was hit and
my neighbors sent a message to tell me they sent them away somewhere.
I do not know where. I have two little girls, they are twins, and I
told them they must be brave because their father had to work night
and day at the hospital and they mustn't cry because I have to work
for humanity. And now I have no idea where they are." Then Dr
Baeri choked on his words and began to cry and could not say goodbye.
There was a man on the second
floor with a fearful wound to the neck. It seemed the doctors could
not staunch his blood and he was dribbling his life away all over the
floor. Something wicked and sharp had cut into his stomach and six
inches of bandages could not stop the blood from pumping out of him.
His brother stood beside him and raised his hand to me and asked: "Why?
A small child with a drip-feed
in its nose lay on a blanket. It had had to wait four days for an operation.
Its eyes looked dead. I didn't have the heart to ask its mother if
this was a boy or a girl.
There was an air strike perhaps
half a mile away and the hospital corridors echoed with the blast,
long and low and powerful, and it was followed by a rising chorus of
moans and cries from the children outside the wards. Below them, in
that worst of all emergency rooms, they had brought in three men who
had been burned across their faces and arms and chests and legs; naked
men with a skin of blood and tissues whom the doctors pasted with white
cream, who sat on their beds with their skinless arms held upwards,
each beseeching a non-existing savior to rescue him from his pain.
"No! No! No!" another
young man screamed as doctors tried to cut open his pants. He shrieked
and cried and whinnied like a horse. I thought he was a soldier. He
looked tough and strong and well fed but now he was a child again and
he cried: "Umma, Umma [Mummy, mummy]".
I left this awful hospital
to find the American shells falling in the river outside. I noticed,
too, some military tents on a small patch of grass near the hospital's
administration building and "God damn it," I said
under my breath an armored vehicle with a gun mounted on it,
hidden under branches and foliage. It was only a few meters inside
the hospital grounds. But the hospital was being used to conceal it.
And I couldn't help noticing the name of the hospital. Adnan Khairallah
had been President Saddam's minister of defense, a man who allegedly
fell out with his leader and died in a helicopter crash whose cause
was never explained.
Even in the last hours of
the Battle of Baghdad, its victims had to lie in a building named in
honor of a murdered man.
THE IRAQI BODY COUNT DATABASE