War wounded abound in "post-war" Iraq
September 7, 2003!
BAGHDAD (AFP) - The war may have been declared over but the wounded keep coming: Iraqis hit by stray bullets, grenades or bombs and flocking to hospitals with only a long-shot hope of getting full treatment.
Five months after the United States proclaimed an end to major combat in Iraq, the occupied country still has no shortage of victims praying for a badly needed operation or artificial limb.
Ali Haidar Jassem, 14, was one of the luckier ones as he sat in Baghdad's al-Kindi hospital with two shattered legs, his right hand and part of his left missing after a June 26 explosion.
The teenager was booked Sunday on a flight to Germany, where a non-governmental organisation called Hammer Forum was taking care of his treatment in the city of Hamburg.
Ali was blown up when coalition forces dynamited a headquarters of Saddam Hussein's ousted Baathist regime a short distance from where the youth was playing.
His mother, divorced with three children, knows that treatment in Germany is the only chance for her son to have the semblance of a normal life, even if it means being separated from him for six months.
"He is going to have a prosthetic hand and he will be operated on again on the right leg," she said. "He is going to miss a year of school but will live better afterwards and not suffer like a martyr like today."
Ali's roommate Abdul Faisal is not as fortunate. The ambulance driver from the town of Ramadi, 110 kilometres (nearly 70 miles) west of Baghdad, lost a leg after a blast on July 13.
"I was driving my ambulance carrying the body of a Ramadi resident when a large explosion went off," Faisal said. "I blacked out. If I am still alive it's thanks to worshippers going to early morning prayers who found me."
Faisal was immobilised in his hospital bed for a month and a half and needs surgery on his leg. But with the al-Kindi hospital long on cases and short on doctors, he will likely have to wait months.
"I would like to go to Europe to get treated. Do you know someone who can help me?" he desperately asks visitors.
Hamid al-Araji, chief of surgery at the 350-bed hospital, said its emergency services were dealing with 10-20 new cases of gunshot or bomb wounds a day in addition to numerous victims of road accidents.
"It's nothing like the situation before the war," Araji said.
One of the recent patients admitted was Qassem Hamid, 33, writhing in pain after taking a bullet to the stomach in an attack Friday on a Sunni Muslim mosque in northern Baghdad. Two other victims were in less serious condition.
"Our health system is not up to absorbing all these problems," fumed Araji. "Sadam Hussein's regime did not build a single medical centre in 30 years but it invested in building palaces.
"Look at this hospital. It's a disgrace!" he said, pointing to the peeling walls and complaining of an absence of ventilation.
Although the United States assured the supply of electricity to the hospital and instituted armed patrols to combat looting after Saddam's ouster in April, Araji said the facility's 75 doctors owed a lot more to private groups.
He said the International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian organisations rushed in with essentials such as food, water and hospital beds.
"The United States never thought that the post-war period would be tougher than the war itself," Araji said. "How could they imagine that overthrowing Saddam Hussein would generate so many problems in Iraq?"
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