Doctor Is Haunted
By Siege Of Fallujah
By Alissa J.
16 November, 2004
Los Angeles Times
Ahmed Ghanim's nightmarish week began with a phone call in the operating
room of a triage center in downtown Fallujah.
On the line was
the manager of the city's General Hospital. Iraqi national guardsmen
and U.S. Marines, the manager said, had entered the hospital, handcuffed
the doctors and were forcing the patients out to the parking lot.
The guardsmen "stole
the mobile phones, the hospital safe where the money is kept and damaged
the ambulances and cars," said Ghanim, an orthopedic surgeon who
works at the hospital. "The Americans were more sympathetic with
the hospital staff and . . . untied the doctors and allowed them to
go outside with the patients."
But the worst was
yet to come. In the coming days, Ghanim would narrowly escape a bombing,
then run through his city's battle-torn streets. He would walk hungry
and scared for miles, carrying with him memories of the people he could
The fight for Fallujah
began Nov. 7. The hospital, the city's main medical center, was seized
that night by U.S. and Iraqi troops. Military commanders said it was
taken to ensure that there was a medical treatment facility available
to civilians and to make sure that insurgents could not exaggerate casualties.
As fighting raged for a week, few civilian accounts of the battle have
been available, and there have been only scattered reports on casualties.
But as combat eased, Ghanim and other survivors emerged and began to
tell their stories.
"We were kicked
out by the (Iraqi National Guard); even the Americans weren't as harsh
as them," said Farhan Khalaf, 58, who had been at Fallujah General
Hospital when it was seized.
roughing up patients and tying up the doctors, hitting them in some
instances,"he added. "They stole whatever valuables they could
get their hands on, including money and cell phones. This is unacceptable.
How could they do this against their own people?"
Last Monday came
and went. On Tuesday, the bombing came closer to the city center. The
doctors were busy.
"I was doing
amputations for many patients. But I am an orthopedic surgeon; if a
patient came to me with an abdominal injury, I could do nothing,"
he said, eyes cast down, close to tears. "We would bring the patient
in, and we would have to let him die."
Electricity to the
city was cut off. There was no water, no food, no fluids for the patients,
Ghanim said. But the patients just kept coming.
"We were treating
everyone. There were women, children, mujahids. I don't ask someone
if they are a fighter before I treat them. I just take care of them,"
Late Tuesday, a
bomb struck one side of the triage center. Ghanim ran out of the building.
A second bomb hit,
crashing through the roof and destroying most of the facility. Ghanim
believes it killed at least two or three of the young resident doctors
working there and most of the patients.
"At that moment,
I wished to die," he said. "It was a catastrophe."
Afterward, he said,
he half-ran, half-wandered through Fallujah, dodging explosions that
seemed to be everywhere. He took shelter in an empty house and did not
"I saw the
injured people on the street, covered in blood, staggering, screaming,
shouting, 'Help me! Help me!' but we could not get out and help them
because we would be killed."
At one point, he
looked out and saw a cousin in the street; he had been wounded. "I
could not do anything for him, I could not move," Ghanim said.
"He died. There was no mercy."
During a lull in
the bombing, the doctor decided to try to leave Fallujah. As he made
his way through the rubble-filled streets, some fighters, Fallujah natives
like himself, recognized the surgeon. They showed him a way out. He
walked with a companion - an anesthetist - along the river, heading
First they walked
to Saglawiya, a nearby village, he said, then more than 12 miles to
the next village. There, a car picked them up and drove them about three
miles. They resumed walking, occasionally getting a lift from a passing
It took them 36
hours, mostly on foot, to make it the more than 30 miles to Baghdad.
They didn't sleep and ate only a few dates and a packet of biscuits.
Yesterday, as Ghanim
recounted the week that was, he was clearly haunted by what might have
been, and those he could not help.
"I think if
the Americans let us treat the injured, even in the streets," he
said, "we could have saved hundreds."