Are Closing Down In Iraq
By Rahul Mahajan
from four hospitals in Baghdad were interviewed in compiling this report;
all asked that their names be left out.
Iraq -- "Why do you keep asking about the closing of the Fallujah
hospital?" my Iraqi translator asks in exasperation. I explain
that this is big news, and it hasn't really been reported in English.
He looks at me, incredulous; all Iraqis know about it.
When the United
States began the siege of Fallujah, it targeted civilians in several
ways. The power station was bombed; perhaps even more important, the
bridge across the Euphrates was closed. Fallujah's main hospital stands
on the western bank of the river; almost the entirety of the town is
on the east side. Although the hospital was not technically closed,
no doctor who actually believes in the Hippocratic oath is going to
sit in an empty hospital while people are dying in droves on the other
bank of the river.
So the doctors shut
down the hospital, took the limited supplies and equipment they could
carry, and started working at a small three-room outpatient clinic,
doing operations on the ground and losing patients because of the inadequacy
of the setup. This event was not reported in English until April 14,
when the bridge was reopened.
In Najaf, the Spanish-language
"Plus Ultra" garrison closed the al-Sadr Teaching Hospital
roughly a week ago (as of yesterday, it remained closed).
With 200 doctors,
the hospital (formerly the Saddam Hussein Teaching Hospital) is one
of the most important in Iraq. Troops entered and gave the doctors two
hours to leave, allowing them to take only personal items -- no medical
equipment. The reason given was that the hospital overlooks the Plus
Ultra's base, and that the roof could be used by resistance snipers.
Al-Arabiya has also
reported that in Qaim, a small town near the Syrian border where fighting
recently broke out, that the hospital had been closed, with American
snipers positioned atop nearby buildings.
The United States
has also impeded the operation of hospitals in other ways. Although
the first Western reports of U.S. snipers shooting at ambulances (see
caused something of a furor, two days ago at a press conference the
Iraqi Minister of Health, Khudair Abbas, confirmed that U.S. forces
had shot at ambulances not just in Fallujah but also in Sadr City, the
sprawling slum in East Baghdad. He condemned the acts and said he had
asked for an explanation from his superiors, the Governing Council and
There are also persistent
claims that after an outbreak of hostilities American soldiers visit
hospitals asking for information about the wounded, with the intent
of removing potential resistance members and interrogating them. Nomaan
Hospital in Aadhamiyah and Yarmouk Hospital in Yarmouk (both areas of
Baghdad) got visits from U.S. forces in the first days after the fighting
in Fallujah started -- the lion's share of evacuated wounded from Fallujah
were taken to those two hospitals. Doctors generally resist being turned
into informants for the occupation; one doctor actually told me that
he has many times discharged people straight from the emergency room,
with inadequate time to recuperate, just to keep them out of military
custody. As he said, "They are my countrymen. How can I hold them
for the Americans?"
While the American
media talks of the great restraint and "pinpoint precision"
of the American attack, over 700 people, at least half of them civilians,
have been killed in Fallujah. And, according to the Ministry of Health,
in the last two weeks, at least 290 were killed in other cities, over
30 of them children. Many of those who died because of the hospital
closures will never be added in to the final tally of the "liberation."
By any reasonable
standard, these hospital closings (and, of course, the shooting at ambulances)
are war crimes. However afraid the Plus Ultra garrison may have been
of attack from the rooftops, they didn't have to close the hospital;
they could simply have screened entrants. In the case of Fallujah, it's
clear that one of the reasons the mujahideen were willing to talk about
ceasefire was to get the hospital open again; in effect, the United
States was holding civilians (indirectly) hostage for military ends.
After an earlier
article about attacks on ambulances, many people wrote to ask why U.S.
forces would do this -- it conflicted with the image they wanted to
have of the U.S. military. Were they just trying to massacre civilians?
And, if so, why?
In fact, it's fairly
simple: the United States has its military goals and simply does not
care how many Iraqi civilians have to be killed in order to maximize
the military efficiency of their operations. A senior British army commander
recently criticized the Americans for viewing the Iraqis as Untermenschen
-- a lower order of human being. He also said the average soldier views
all Iraqis as enemies or potential enemies. That is precisely the case.
I have heard the same thing from dozens of people here -- "They
don't care what happens to Iraqis."
Although this relatively
indiscriminate killing of civilians may serve American military ends
-- keeping the ratio of enemy dead to American soldiers dead as high
as possible -- in terms of political ends, it is a disaster. It is very
difficult to explain to an Iraqi that a man fighting from his own town
with a Kalashnikov or RPG launcher is a "coward" and a "war
criminal" (because, apparently, he should go out into the desert
and wait to be annihilated from the sky) but that someone dropping 2000-pound
bombs on residential areas or shooting at ambulances because they may
have guns in them (even though they usually don't) is a hero and is
following the laws of war.
When I was here
in January, there was a pervasive atmosphere of discontent, frustration,
and anger with the occupation. But most people were still just trying
to ride it out, stay patient, and hope that things improved. The wanton
brutality of the occupation has at long last put an end to that patience.
Before, the occupation
might have succeeded -- not in building real democracy, which was never
the goal, but in cementing U.S. control of Iraq.
It cannot succeed
now. The resistance in Fallujah will be beaten down, with the commission
of more war crimes; if the United States invades Najaf, it will be able
to win militarily there as well. But from now on, no military victory
will make Iraqis stop resisting.
Rahul Mahajan is
the publisher of the weblog Empire Notes (http://www.empirenotes.org)
and is writing and blogging from Baghdad. His latest book is "Full
Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond." He can be reached