Hospitals under strain

BAGHDAD — It is early afternoon in the emergency room of Baghdad’s Yarmouk Hospital. Medics are on stand by for a big influx of casualties from a bomb south of Baghdad.
But right now they have a more pressing job.

Several doctors, blood spattered on their white coats, are calmly trying to save the life of a young man who has just been rushed in with a bullet-wound that has punctured his lung. He appears to have been shot, by mistake, by US troops on the road to Baghdad airport. On an average day, between 20 and 50 people, injured in unrelenting violence, are treated in the emergency room at Yarmouk alone.

Most have been hurt in insurgent bombs, doctors say. But there is also a steady flow of people coming into Iraqi hospitals who have been injured by US soldiers.

“It’s very sad,” says Dr Mohaned Rahe, “but things aren’t improving.”

Across town, in the brutal midday heat, simple wooden coffins are being strapped to cars outside Baghdad’s main morgue. The hospital’s director, Dr Faeq Baker, has a shocking statistic.

“On average we have 28 bodies turning up every day — 90 per cent of them victims of violence,” he says.

“And we don’t even see the people killed by explosions because they don’t require autopsies.” Last month, his teams had to deal with over 860 bodies, some of them bound and shot in the head.

A significant number, he believes, have been murdered for sectarian motives.

And several had been wearing handcuffs.

Baker thinks they may have been killed by the Iraqi police.

“From what we’re seeing, things are getting worse,” says Baker, a forensic pathologist who has studied and worked in London, at Guy’s Hospital.

“There are mass killings going on. It is a mess. No-one knows who is killing who. Everything is out of control.”

In the Yarmouk Hospital men’s ward, a young bomb victim, Omar Attiya, lies beside a 50-year-old man, Dhia Abbas, who has gunshots to his back and leg.

He says his car was peppered with bullets by US soldiers as he was driving home from visiting his daughter at 2230 local time (1830 GMT).

“I thought I was going to die, they just shot and shot and shot,” he says. “The roads were empty and maybe they suspected me of something, but there was no warning, they just opened fire.”

And there was no warning when Attiya was hit by shrapnel from one of 10 suicide bombings in Baghdad alone last Friday.

In the ward next door, 30-year-old Shia Nadhem Farhan is even more seriously injured, his spleen ruptured by gunfire. He had been in a minibus driving from Najaf to Baghdad, to try to join up to the new Iraqi army.

“I was asleep when the bullets started to hit, but other passengers told me we were shot at by US troops, maybe for getting too close to their convoy.”

US convoys are frequently targeted, the soldiers travelling in them, many of whom have lost colleagues, are often jumpy and nervous.

Most Iraqis drive well back from them, for fear of being shot.

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