June 10 2005
The picturesque and peaceful landscapes on the way to Al-Qaim contradict sharply with the tragic reality this little town more than 400 kilometers to the west of Baghdad, lives in for more than two years. The Euphrates flows slowly and calmly among many villages and small townships, those we rarely hear of in the news: Karabla, Ebeidy, Rommana, Al-Ish…surrounded by fruit orchards. Bombed houses on the way say something…but the reality is "beyond description" as Dr. Hamdi Al-Aaloossy says
Dr. Hamdi was not in Al-Qaim when we arrived, but he came all the way from another city to meet us. He was very angry.
"What are you going to do for us? Once after I did an interview, the American troops came here and held me for more than 4 hours in my office. They did not leave until I show them the medical records and documents to support what I said in that interview"
What did they want?
-They asked me why I said that the casualties were women and children while the American military spokesman said they were terrorists. I told them that the casualties I treated here were women and children and showed them the medical files.
öAfter we had a tour in the hospital, listening to what the patients and employees had to say, we found out that his anger was the least we could expect. Dr. Hamdi had to work, protect his medical staff, and help the hundreds of urgent cases in extremely difficult, almost impossible, situation without any help.
"The events began on May 2, 2005" Dr. Hamdi began his description of the situation, "there was fierce fighting, the hospital became a battle field. After 3 days of fighting and shelling on the hospital we decided to go to an alternative one in the center of town. We gave first aid, blood transfusions, nutritious solutions and medicines. We saved many lives in very difficult circumstances. We were under huge pressure. The ambulances movement was very limited, we could not do many operations, but we managed to save many children. There were many casualties, the majority civilians, tens of dead bodies, tens of the wounded. The situation was so tragic. We sent many calls of help to humanitarian organizations and to the fighting parties too, to stop the blood bath. Thanks to God that the situation stopped at this point. We ask God peace and security for this town".
"But other towns were exposed to heavy bombing, in Karabla and Rommana, many were killed. We could not reach them until after the fighting was over. I advice you to go there and see the damage, the demolished houses, and the victims who were buried under the rubbles. There were tens of them. In one house 4 were killed and 7 wounded, this is one example. The bombing and shells do not differentiate between civilians and fighters; they do not know children, old people, and women. The horror was so great. Many families fled to the desert, with nothing, only the sand and the sky. It was a human tragedy; we ask God that it will not happen again"
What about the number of casualties?
-42 people were killed, more than 50 injured. I assure you that the majority were civilians, women, children and old people. In Rommana 6 people were killed in one house, 5 in another.
What about the alternative hospital?
- It is a diwan (big guest room or hall) in one house. The family volunteered to host us. It was not easy to work, but we did our best, as we say in Arabic "the less harmful", we had two choices: either stay in and jeopardize the lives of the medical staff, or leave the town. The fighting went on for almost two weeks. We could work in Al-Qaim only. We managed to send some medical help to Karabla, but the roads to Rommana were closed, we could not help them, and we apologized to them through some satellite channels. But we went to see them after the fighting was over.
Who helped them?
I can not say, but some of the wounded were moved to Mosul through the desert. In Ebeidi they had an alternative hospital, and we sent them a surgeon and an anesthetist.
It was tragic because we could not move the injured to a hospital, we could not send an ambulance out, and we did not know how to behave.
What about on normal days, not during military operations, are there any casualties?
-certainly, there are the American snipers. There are casualties every day. But of course when there are military operations the number is much higher, the situation becomes indescribable. Not enough medical supplies, very limited ambulance movement, difficult conditions…the second day in the alternative hospital, a bomb exploded few meters away. In normal situation there are the land mines, the snipers, the clashes, there is no single day without firing, casualties, and families leaving town.
In such (NORMAL) situation, do you have enough medical supplies especially for emergency cases?
-The Red Crescent, the Humanitarian Relief and other organizations helped us, but the situation is too difficult, and we certainly need more help…
What are the damages in the hospital?
- The hospital was partially damaged, we lost 2 ambulances and one Land Cruiser, the air-conditions, electricity net, water, medical instruments, doors, the building ….etc. We call upon humanitarian organizations for help. In the alternative hospital, we could do different types of operations: blood, nutritious solutions, surgery, amputation, and lung paracentesis. We had to chose between leaving the injured to death or do what ever we can do to save their lives. As doctors we can not go to our private clinics, which are closed now. We attend patients in houses and in the streets…
In the streets?!!!
-Yes, we stop on the road to examine a patient. Snipers do not differentiate between people, also the shelling, the mortars and the bombing. The casualties are so many.
The whole atmosphere in Al-Qaim was tense. The sign that said "Welcome in Al-Qaim" at the main entrance of the town disappeared. The main commercial street was mysteriously deserted; many houses and public buildings were destroyed to the ground.
In the hospital, a crowd of men were waiting, one of them was crying. Traces of shelling, bullets, blasts were obvious on the walls, the broken windows, the ambulances and the air-conditions. In the emergency ward, a young man, Quosai, was lying, his head and chest wrapped, respiratory tube on his nose, another tube coming out of his bleeding lung. Quosai has a shoes-shop in the market. He was opening his shop when an American sniper shot him in the head and chest.
How is he now?
-unstable, Dr. Lam'an, who volunteered to show us around replied. "His right lung is torn, and we do not know about his head injury yet, he has to be sent to Baghdad for further examination, we do not have the equipments hear. Yesterday we sent another injured man; he passed away on the way to Baghdad".
A man volunteered to talk: "This is happening every day. Women and children are killed everyday. A 9 year old boy was injured with Quosai, and another man in a jewelry shop. The same place, the same street, every day. The snipers are everywhere, they occupy the high buildings, and they shoot randomly. 5 women were killed in a month, one of them is very old, she was going to the bank to receive her pension, the car was shot and 4 people were killed in the spot, including her".
The man who was crying outside turned out to be Quosai's brother. He was crying bitterly, and could not hide his anger "we are innocent civilians going to work. The American snipers are hiding everywhere aiming at who ever they want. We can not do anything, and this has been going on for months, snipers, airplanes, mortars, bombing. God will avenge us against them."
All the people of Al-Qaim say that the customs building, which gives on the main commercial street, and which is occupied by the American troops and used as their headquarters, is the point where the snipers are shooting people from.
Facing Quosai was a 10 year old boy, Ahmad Abdullah. His nose, hands, abdomen were all connected to many tubes. His abdomen was wrapped. Ahmad was going home from school after receiving his final report, he had good marks, and was very happy to be in the forth grade, when a mortar shell torn his stomach, liver and pancreas. He had shrapnel in his head. "What actually happened was that a mortar shell was dropped, Ahmad was afraid, and he came running into the house when the second shell was dropped and injured him. There were no armed fighter around, no terrorists, the American were shooting randomly and continuously", his father explained.
In the children ward, two women were preparing the kids who suffers from diarrhea, to leave, holding with them the medicines and the solution bottles,
Where are you going?
We are leaving; it is not safe to stay in the hospital. They began to talk about the problems we hear from almost all the Iraqi mothers nowadays: the milk is expensive, the fathers are unemployed, life is difficult…etc. The ward itself was miserable, with the old equipments, ruined and bare beds. The women ward was not better, neither the labor and delivery rooms. Dr. Lam'an explains that there is a new delivery hall, but it is closed "we do not have a cadre, no assistant doctors, no nurses, no anesthetists…they are not willing to work here. Few months ago a woman doctor and her fiancée, who is also a doctor, were killed, the anesthetist was beaten badly by the American troops. He refused to come back to work for a month".
The only operation theater in hospital was not in a better shape. The windows were closed by bricks because every time the glasses were repaired, a blast destroys them. The doors are destroyed by soldiers' kicks or blasts. "All kinds of operations are done here" explained Dr.Lam'an, "Al-Qaim is a town of 200.000 population. You can imagine the pressure, with all the wounded and the women cases. We added a new operation table now, but the place is miserable as you can see". The walls were cracked; the operation table was broken and supported by a piece of wood. "This is our electronic door" Dr. Lam'an was sarcastically pointing at an aluminum door which has been broken and repaired many times.
"Nothing is left unbroken here" says Abu Mohammad, a male nurse and assistant administrative employee "the doors, the equipments, the windows, the cars…they say that we treat terrorists here, but when a patient is brought we do not ask if he is a terrorist or a soldier. I' ve been working here for 30 years, nothing like this happened under Saddam, with all his injustice. No doctor was ever beaten or humiliated. No doctor was arrested. We got rid of Saddam, but all the woe began. If you see the autopsy files, all of them are women and children. 50% of Al-Qaim people run away, in my area only three families are left, the houses are deserted, the shops are closed. They (the American) destroyed the court building, the fuel station, a house for the unmarried, the insurance company. The snipers are every where, occupying the houses and buildings. They say we want to protect you from the terrorists…but we do not know when the American would come and demolish our houses".
Abu Mohammad showed us all the destruction of the hospital.
Aysha, a young widow covered with black, who works in the hospital, was there on May2, 2005.
"It was noon; the shooting began after a dead body was brought here. The hospital was surrounded; the place was full of armed men. I told them that my 3 children are alone in the house and that I got to leave. I had to go from corner to corner, under the fire. I found the fighters inside my house. They told me to stay, I could not. I decided to take the children to my father in law's house across the street. A shell was dropped at the door; I decided to go no matter what. My husband's family went out to see, another shell was dropped on them, 5 children were killed, and 4 women injured, one of them lost one of her eyes. I left Al-Qaim and went to Ebeidi; the fighting was heavier, so I went to a village called Al-Khaseem until the fighting was over. Many people are telling me to leave Al-Qaim, but where am I to go, I work here". Aysha's father, an old man in his 80s, was killed by a sniper shot while he was leaving the mosque. Her husband died 4 months ago in a car accident. Her oldest son is 6 years.