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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 08:14 GMT 09:14 UK
Surviving life in a Baghdad ER
By Alexandra Fouché
BBC News

Al-Yarmouk hospital has been transformed by the insurgency and sectarian strife into a "field hospital in a civil war", according to a doctor/documentary-maker given unprecedented access to film there.

Even filming inside the Baghdad hospital is dangerous and many refuse to show their face on camera.

This includes the doctor, who remains anonymous in his programme: "Anyone working for foreigners or as a journalist is targeted," he told me in London last week.

Iraqi doctor
The doctor was given special access to the hospital

The nature of the injuries brought into the Emergency Room have changed over time, from the rocket injuries and bullet wounds related to the 2003 US-led invasion, through the revenge killings in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's fall, to the stabbings of petty crime in the increasingly unstable Iraqi capital.

After that came the bombings and the sectarian violence which grew markedly after the attack on a major Shia shrine in February this year.

Most recently he says, bodies have been dumped in front of the hospital by security forces - between 20 and 40 daily - because the city's central morgue is full.

The bodies have "their hands tied, their faces are covered, some have been executed by being shot in the head; some have been beheaded, tortured or disembowelled".

Everyday violence

On a day-to-day level, the main problem doctors have deal with is that of ordinary people marching in and demanding immediate care for their wounded relatives, he says.

Most Iraqis now carry weapons to defend themselves and are not afraid to wave them around to get attention - the "power of the guns".

This is a place where doctors are routinely threatened, humiliated and insulted.

A patient is wheeled through al-Yarmouk hospital
Doctors at al-Yarmouk mostly deal with war wounds

They have to live with interior ministry forces arriving in the emergency room to demand treatment for their own people.

It is not just Iraqi security people who barge into hospitals unannounced.

The doctor speaks of insurgents coming on "special missions" to kidnap Sunni patients in retaliation for sectarian attacks against Shia civilians.

"Shia death squads are hitting back - kidnapping, torturing and killing Sunni civilians," he says.

Many senior doctors have been killed, kidnapped or are leaving the country.

This leaves junior doctors in charge, and although new doctors are being trained, the time could come when the Iraqi health care system will suffer a complete breakdown, he believes.

The situation got so bad that a few months ago, doctors staged a strike calling for better security inside the hospital and better working conditions.

No records

Many bodies lie unclaimed for weeks or months.

We become immune. Everyone is under threat in Baghdad

Hospitals try to keep records of the dead and injured.

"The hospital has to continually report ER admissions to the ministry of health. Typically, nobody does anything with those figures, but every day [the doctor keeping records] has to go through the motions.

"We don't know how many are dying, there are problems with identification and there are too many bodies."

He finds the controversial recent estimate of 655,000 deaths since the invasion entirely credible.

Sometimes, the relatives take the bodies away without getting a death certificate.

The doctor recalls one instance where two children were brought in but died in the hospital.

Their father took away the bodies to bury them before a death certificate was issued.

Staying put

Despite the daily dose of horror, the doctor says life is not worse at the ER than for anyone else in Baghdad.

"We become immune. Everyone is under threat in Baghdad."

But despite the dangers, the doctor is not planning to join the exodus of middle-class professionals.

"People don't know what is going on in Iraq, they can't hear the Iraqi people screaming. Iraqis need a voice. Making films is a better way of serving my country, of trying to draw people's attention."

Baghdad: A doctor's story will be shown as part of BBC2's This World series Tuesday 24 October at 2150 (2050 GMT).




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