A young Iraqi doctor testifies on the horror in Iraq

 

* “There were only local anaesthetics available to amputate limbs” (27 Nov 2005)

* Dr. Salam Ismael vertelt over de gruwelijkheden in Irak (27 Nov 2005)

* ‘Even during operations, doctors were shot at by US soldiers’ (07 Dec 2005)

* Broken Promises (01 Feb 2006)

* Samarra Bombing and the third anniversary of mess (02 April 2006)

* Talafar Hospital Equipments smashed by angry armed gunmen (17 June 2006)

* Thousands of displaced families flee Ramadi (26 June 2006)

* Strangers in our lands after four years of American “liberation” (18 March 2007)

* Humanitarian suffering deepens in besieged Iraqi city of Samarra (16 May 2007)

Dr. Salam T. Ismael, General secretary Doctors for Iraq Society, BRussells Tribunal.

“There were only local anaesthetics available to amputate limbs”

By Inge Van de Merlen

27 November 2005 

What’s a young Iraqi physician doing in snowy Brussels on a chilly November night?  Dr. Salam Ismael is in Europe to testify about the human rights violations committed against his people in Iraq.  Iraq, the country in our history books defined as the “cradle of civilization;” a country that every Iraqi is proud of.  Medical Aid for the Third World[1], the Belgian NGO that sent four physicians into the bombed-out hell of Baghdad in 2003, has brought him to Brussels for a few days to share his experiences.  I had the opportunity to talk with him before he presented his uncensored photo and film material in a conference room of Intal[2]. 

Twenty-nine years ago, Salam (whose name means “peace”) was born in the Al-Adhamya district of Baghdad to a Shia mother and a Sunni father, so the idea of a civil war — Sunni against Shia — is, understandably, alien to him. After finishing his secondary schooling he went to the Medical School of Baghdad, and, as a young doctor, had just started his first year of specialization in orthopaedic surgery, when the United States attacked his country in March 2003.  Dr. Salam chose to cease his studies and leave his position as chief of junior doctors in Baghdad, to volunteer his services in the heaviest hit areas of the country. In October 2003, together with a few other junior doctors, he founded Doctors for Iraq, and since that time has undertaken missions to the most remote and besieged areas and refugee camps to bring aid to the victims. 

You were in Fallujah during the first siege in April 2004.  Can you tell me something about what you witnessed there? 

The day prior to the siege of Fallujah I had a day off.  I was home alone and Al‑Jazeera transmitted images of the first bombings.  Together with a few other doctors I decided to go to Fallujah.  I left a note for my family explaining where I was and that I hoped to see them again when I returned.  When we arrived at Fallujah the bombings had started and we entered the city through the desert, as all the roads were blocked.  Fallujah lies along the Euphrates and to get to the hospital one has to traverse a bridge across the river.  It was impossible to reach the hospital, since American troops had closed the bridge.  We turned back to town and established a field clinic.

During our stay in Fallujah, American snipers controlled a part of the city, which we called the ‘ghost area’.  Everything that moved became a target and even ambulances weren’t spared.  An ambulance was hit by a missile right before our eyes and completely burned out.  This incident was reported by BBC news.[3] I was wounded in the chest by shrapnel during this attack.

The first siege of Fallujah was carried out under a frequently applied tactic called the ‘general punishment rule’.  When American troops get attacked near a city or village they besiege it.  They impose a curfew, which makes it rather impossible for residents to get food supplies.  Electricity and water are cut off.  This situation persists for days or weeks; families are trapped in their homes.  Then, during house raids, numerous people get arrested without any charge.

The 9th of April became known as ‘cluster bomb night’.  US troops tried to capture the Julan district and used cluster bombs, which cause extremely severe injuries.  We treated numerous victims and we had to divide our limited amount of anaesthetics among them.  There were only local anaesthetics available to amputate limbs and the doctors had to stitch the wounds with ordinary needles and sewing thread.

After a few days we ran out of food and had to survive on juice, cookies and sugar.  There wasn’t a living soul in the streets and ambulances were constantly targeted.  When the siege finally came to an end, the first convoy entered the city.  Young men arrived in trucks with food supplies and a banner displaying the words “Gift from Sadr City”.  Sadr City is a poor Shia neighbourhood in Baghdad and Fallujah has a mainly Sunni population.  In Iraq there is a great solidarity among the people and the so-called looming civil war is nothing but a fabrication to divide the country. 

Half a year later Fallujah was besieged again.  What happened then? 

The second siege of Fallujah was much worse.  When we tried to transport the dead bodies out of the city, we discovered that the American army had made use of illegal weapons. 

Is there any evidence of that? 

I’m convinced that the testimony of eyewitnesses, scientific facts and an international investigation will provide the evidence.  Napalm is an inflammable, sticky gel that burns at 300-350°C (572-662°F), causing fourth degree burnings.  The American troops used napalm combined with white phosphorous, which makes the temperature increase up to 3000°C (5432°F).  The chemicals react with the water in human cells.  Clothes stay intact, but the affected skin burns to the bone.  Since these chemicals react with water, the effect worsens when you pour water on it.  The only means to stop the burning is by smothering it with mud.

During the three or four days following the attacks, aid workers couldn’t get access to the city.  When they were finally allowed to enter, they found that in some districts whole streets and compounds had been bulldozed.  You need to understand that the remains of white phosphorous and napalm only stay on the ground for 48-72 hours.  After that period you can’t find any useful samples for analysing purposes.  On human bodies the effects of these weapons will remain visible for a longer time.  We also found bodies of civilians that were obviously not killed in a fighting position.  Some of them were lying in their beds when they died and didn’t show external injuries, which also indicates the use of chemical weapons.

Even absent the use of chemical weapons, crimes against humanity occurred.  According to the Geneva Conventions it is forbidden to deny life necessities to the people.  This is, as a matter of fact, a much more severe violation of human rights than is the use of phosphorous and napalm.   

 According to eyewitnesses, at least 60 % of Fallujah was bombed to rubble.  During the sieges of the city, ambulances were targeted deliberately.

 Today, more than 6,400 families have fled their homes in western Iraq.  Many of them are living in the desert after multiple attacks by the US & Iraqi military on several cities along the Euphrates.

The second attack on Fallujah took place one year ago.  How are living conditions in the city today? 

Fallujah is still besieged; it’s a prison.  Without an identity card no one can move within the city.  People who want to enter are required to have retina scans and fingerprints taken.  It’s very difficult to move around and there are fixed times to enter or leave the city.  Around Fallujah there are five American checkpoints, which are still under daily attacks of the resistance.  Fallujans will never forget the losses they suffered and they want the occupiers out. 

On weblogs where civilian casualties of Fallujah are mentioned you often read reactions like: “It was the residents’ own fault.  They had been warned beforehand to leave the city.”  What do you think of that? 

Before the first siege of Fallujah nobody was warned, so nobody was prepared to leave.  Immediately before the second siege women and children had indeed been warned to leave the city.  They had to pass through American checkpoints to get out.  The population learned, via loudspeakers, that men between 18 and 35 weren’t allowed to leave.  Can you imagine that mothers, daughters, sisters and wives would leave their sons, fathers, brothers and husbands behind in a city that was to undergo one of the severest attacks of this war?  It’s only natural that they chose to stand beside their loved ones.

Besides, there wasn’t any provision of shelter for the refugees.  Those who had permission to leave didn’t have any place to go, so they preferred to barricade themselves in their houses, rather than flee into the desert without any necessities. 

For more than six months, American and Iraqi troops have been attacking other cities along the Euphrates.  Mass media mentions these attacks rather sporadically and reports are restricted to official press releases of the army and the government.  What have you seen there? 

I was involved in aid missions to Rawah, Hit, Haditha, Al-Qaim and Tal Afar.  These are smaller cities than Fallujah.  The army used the same strategy and the attacks were of a similar intensity, although there are some differences to observe.  In Qaim, for example, they used so-called ‘smart bombs’.  These bombs get their name from the assertion that they target insurgents without killing civilians.  Can you imagine that?!

Such a 500 kg bomb leaves a crater of 5-6 meters depth and everything within a radius of 500 meters is swept away.  These smart bombs increased the number of casualties drastically.  There were many children among the victims, since whole families were buried under the rubble of their houses.

In Al-Qaim, a city of about 80,000 inhabitants, one attack on a district resulted in 40 civilian casualties.  In Haditha, I know about one bomb attack that killed 31 people.

But that’s not all there is to say about it.  By destroying their cities thousands of people were forced to flee.  In western Iraq alone, the number of refugee families is estimated at 6,400.  Many of them live in the desert without shelter; others live in their cars.  They lack all essential provisions and in these remote areas medical care is extremely restricted. 

In the official media we don’t hear about any of this.  Aren’t there any international fact-finding missions investigating these crimes?   

We shouldn’t expect much support from international human rights organisations like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch.  In 2004, AI mentioned that it could be that human rights violations occurred.  That’s it.  There are very obvious examples of breaches of international law and Amnesty declares that it could be that human rights in Iraq are violated.

With regards to the  (mass) media, they haven’t been in Fallujah since the first siege.  Journalists report from their hotels in the Green Zone in Baghdad.  This heavily fortified area covers only 5 km; the rest of Iraq is Red Zone.

Anyway, we were the only Iraqi organisation that received an invitation from the WHO in Geneva.  About a month and a half ago I submitted reports to a session on the humanitarian crisis in western Iraq and the situation of the health care system.  I’ve called on the WHO to encourage international aid organisations to resume operations in Iraq; to start an investigation into breaches of the Geneva Conventions regarding medical neutrality; and to pressure the occupying forces to cease their misconduct.  We’re still waiting for a reaction from the WHO, but one aid organisation has already announced a mission to Iraq. 

What does Doctors for Iraq do to help? 

It’s a very difficult task for our small organisation.  First, we organise convoys with supplies to the refugee camps.  This direct aid to the victims is of great value to them.

Of much higher importance for the future of Iraq is finding a solution to the ‘brain drain’ problem, the forced emigration of highly educated medical personnel, which considerably weakens the Iraqi society.  A clear example is the case of Dr. Talib Khairiullah, former head of the Iraqi Centre of Cardiology.  In 2003 he was forced to resign because of his membership in the Baathist Party.  After repeated harassment he decided to leave the country.  Before he resigned, he treated a thousand patients a month, and he was the only doctor in Iraq with an American Medical Board certification, an important title for highly qualified medical specialists.  His fame reached across Iraq’s borders.  After he was dismissed, the centre’s staff protested.  During a conversation with the American Minister of Health in Iraq, they learned that an order from Washington required 25 of the 26 residents to resign also.  They all left Iraq and are working in Jordan now.

In 2004, the Medical School of Baghdad started the first term with just 60% of its teaching staff; at the beginning of the second term, 50% were left.  At the department of ophthalmology only 2 of 9 senior instructors remained.

Volunteers from Doctors for Iraq bring aid to one of the villages around Fallujah. 

It’s a tough job for this small organisation to cover the needs of the victims

Have you, personally, also been targeted?

Yes.  Our family house was raided three times by the American army.  The last time, they detained my 65-year-old father.  They held him for eight hours and humiliated him.  Then, they took my two sisters to the roof of the house and brought my father there as well, and one of the soldiers forced a gun into his hands and tried to make him kill himself in front of my sisters.  Neighbours called the police to intervene, but when they arrived, they told the neighbours they couldn’t do anything to stop it and left.  Finally, the soldiers released my father.  They returned again to search the house once more. 

Is there anything we could do from here to help? 

Aid supplies and financial support are of course very important and more than welcome.  We have to send out medical teams all the time and therefore we need medical supplies, surgery sets in particular.  The problem is that we can hardly do our work.  We’re constantly hindered.

Let me give the example of Haditha hospital.  At the beginning of last May a car bomb exploded 500 meters from the hospital next to an American convoy.  The hospital itself was also damaged.  The soldiers came to the hospital and asserted the insurgents were hiding inside.  They raided the hospital as if it was a military camp, with sound and light bombs and with snipers.  The hospital was occupied from 9 pm until midnight.  In one of the operating rooms they arrested all of the doctors, who were prevented from completing the ongoing operations.  Soldiers forced the manager of the hospital to lead them through the building, although he had keys to all the rooms, he wasn’t allowed to use them.  Instead, they blew open every door of the hospital with explosives and destroyed everything that came in their way.  The doctors warned them about the many inflammable products in the hospital, but the soldiers ignored these warnings and set the store and the laundry on fire.  They let them burn for 9 hours without making any attempt to extinguish the flames.  A 35-year-old patient was killed in his bed. 

After the raid we tried to repair the hospital.  According to an official report the reparation costs for the building alone amounted to 200,000,000 Iraqi dinars.  At the end of the same month, the soldiers returned to destroy the hospital a second time.  On the first day of Ramadan in October, the military occupied the hospital for 7 days and used it as a military camp.  The hospital manager and one doctor were arrested on charges of treating insurgents. The other doctors issued a press release, but no one responded. 

In addition to financial support there is a huge need of volunteers to train doctors because so many of our own doctors are forced to leave the country.  Establishing a network of such volunteers would be ideal. 

Donations for Doctors for Iraq:

 

HSBC Bank plc.

56 Cornmarket, Oxford

Oxfordshire,

OX1 3HY

Account name: Doctors for Iraq

Account number: 92302349

Branch Sort Code: 40-35-34

 

The website of Doctors for Iraq is still under construction but is already operative on: www.doctorsforiraq.org

 

The author of this interview is a member of the BRussells Tribunal Executive committee[4].

With thanks to Fred Samia who contributed to the English translation of the text.


 

[1] www.g3w.be (French and Dutch)

[2] www.intal.be (French and Dutch)

[3] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3653223.stm

[4] www.brusselstribunal.org


Een jonge arts vertelt over de gruwelijkheden in Irak.

 

“We amputeerden ledematen onder plaatselijke verdoving”

Inge Van de Merlen (27 november 2005)

Wat zoekt een jonge, Irakese arts op een kille novemberavond in het besneeuwde Brussel?  Dr. Salam Ismael verblijft sinds enige tijd in Europa om zijn verhaal te doen over de mensenrechtenschendingen in Irak, het land waar elke Irakees zo trots op is; het Mesopotamië dat in onze geschiedenisboeken als de wieg der beschaving wordt omschreven.  Geneeskunde voor de Derde Wereld, een Belgische organisatie die tijdens de invasie van 2003 zelf vier artsen naar de bommenhel van Bagdad zond, bracht hem afgelopen week voor een paar dagen naar Brussel.  Net voor zijn – ongecensureerde - foto- en filmpresentatie in de conferentiezaal van vzw Intal kon ik hem nog even ontvoeren voor een gesprek.

Dr. Salam Ismael werd 29 jaar geleden in al-Adhamya (Bagdad) geboren als zoon van een Sjiietische moeder en een Soennitische vader.  Een burgeroorlog binnen de familie kan hij zich in het geheel niet voorstellen.  Na het secundair onderwijs studeerde hij verder aan de Medical School in Bagdad.  De jonge arts was na zijn graduaat aan het eerste specialisatiejaar voor orthopedische chirurgie begonnen, toen de regering van een welvarend westers land besloot Irak tot puin te laten schieten.  Dr. Salam, die inmiddels ook hoofd van de jonge dokters in Bagdad was geworden, zag zich genoodzaakt zijn studies te onderbreken om als vrijwilliger naar de zwaarst getroffen gebieden van zijn land te vertrekken.  In oktober 2003 richtte hij samen met een aantal andere jonge artsen de organisatie Doctors for Iraq op.  Sindsdien ondernemen ze missies naar de meest afgelegen belegerde gebieden en vluchtelingenkampen om er hulp te bieden aan de slachtoffers.

(foto: Wim De Ceukelaire / Intal) 

Je was in Fallujah tijdens de eerste grote aanval op die stad in april 2004.  Wat kan je me hierover vertellen? 

Daags voor de belegering van Fallujah had ik een vrije dag.  Mijn familie was niet thuis en op de televisie zond Al-Jazeera beelden uit van de start van de belegering.  Samen met een paar andere artsen besloot ik naar Fallujah te vertrekken.  Ik liet een kattebelletje achter om mijn familie van mijn vertrek op de hoogte te brengen en schreef dat ik hoopte hen te zullen weerzien.  Toen we bij Fallujah aankwamen, waren de bombardementen reeds begonnen.  Omdat alle toegangswegen waren afgesloten, moesten we de stad via de woestijn betreden.  Fallujah ligt langs de oevers van de Eufraat en om vanuit het centrum het hospitaal te bereiken moet je via een brug de rivier oversteken.  Dit was echter onmogelijk, omdat de Amerikaanse troepen de brug hadden afgesloten.  Toen zijn we naar de stad weergekeerd en hebben daar een veldhospitaal opgericht. 

Gedurende ons verblijf in Fallujah werd een deel van de stad gecontroleerd door Amerikaanse sluipschutters.  Daarom werd dit Ghost area, ‘spookgebied’, genoemd.  Alles wat er bewoog namen de Amerikaanse troepen onder vuur.  Ziekenwagens werden evenmin gespaard.  Voor onze ogen werd een ziekenwagen getorpedeerd en vatte vuur.  Zelfs de BBC vermeldde dit incident.  Bij deze aanval kreeg ik een bomsplinter in mijn borst. 

De bevolking van Fallujah onderging collectieve straffen, de zogenaamde general punishment rule. Dit is een frequent toegepaste methode van de Amerikanen wanneer hun troepen in de buurt van een stad of dorp zijn aangevallen.  Ze beginnen dan met de belegering van de stad en stellen een spertijd in, zodat de mensen slechts op uiterst beperkte tijdstippen uit hun huizen kunnen.  Hierdoor is het praktisch onmogelijk om levensmiddelenvoorraden in huis aan te vullen en het water en de elektriciteit worden eveneens afgesloten.  Deze toestand houdt dan dagen tot zelfs weken aan en de families zitten onoverkomelijk in de val.  Tijdens de huiszoekingen worden velen zonder enige aanklacht gearresteerd. 

Op 9 november 2004 vond de ‘nacht der clusterbommen’ plaats.  De VS-troepen trachtten het Julan-district in te nemen en gebruikten hierbij clusterbommen, die ernstige verwondingen veroorzaken.  We moesten een groot aantal slachtoffers behandelen en zagen ons genoodzaakt de beperkte hoeveelheden verdovingsmiddelen over de talrijke zwaargewonden te verdelen.  Onder plaatselijke verdoving werden ledematen geamputeerd.  Wonden moesten we met gewone naalden en naaigaren hechten. 

Na enkele dagen raakten we door onze voedselvoorraad heen, zodat we op fruitsap, koekjes en suiker moesten teren.  Er was geen mens in de straten te bekennen en ziekenwagens behoorden tot de gerichte doelwitten.  Toen er een einde aan de belegering kwam, reed het eerste konvooi de stad binnen.  Jonge mannen arriveerden met vrachtwagens vol voedsel en op een spandoek stond “gift van Sadr city” te lezen.  Sadr city is een arme, sjiietische wijk in Bagdad en de bevolking van Fallujah is hoofdzakelijk soennitisch.  In Irak heerst namelijk een grote solidariteit onder de bevolking en de sektarische burgeroorlog is een verzinsel. 

Een half jaar later werd Fallujah opnieuw bestookt.  Wat kan je me daarover vertellen? 

Tijdens de tweede belegering van Fallujah ging het er veel erger aan toe.  Toen we probeerden om de lijken uit de stad te halen, ontdekten we dat de Amerikanen illegale wapens hadden gebruikt.   

Bestaan hiervoor bewijzen? 

Ik ben ervan overtuigd dat de verklaringen van ooggetuigen over de explosies, de wetenschappelijke feiten en internationale onderzoeken het nodige bewijs hiervoor kunnen leveren.  Napalm wordt gebruikt in de vorm van kleine bommen met een ontvlambare, kleverige gel.  Er ontstaat een hitte van 300°C à 350°C.  Dit veroorzaakt brandwonden in de vierde graad.  De Amerikanen gebruikten napalm in combinatie met witte fosfor.  Hierdoor stijgt de hitte tot meer dan 3000°C.  De chemicaliën reageren met het water in de menselijke cellen.  Terwijl de kleding intact blijft, brandt de huid tot op het bot weg.  Daar deze stoffen met water reageren, verergert het effect bij contact met water.  De enige manier om het branden te stoppen is modder. 

Na de aanvallen op Fallujah kregen hulpverleners gedurende 3 à 4 dagen geen toegang tot de stad.  Toen ze uiteindelijk wel binnen mochten, bleken een aantal straten met bulldozers te zijn bewerkt.  In enkele districten van de stad waren zelfs hele huizenblokken door bulldozers platgewalst.  Nu moet je weten dat op de grond de restanten van witte fosfor en napalm slechts 48 tot 72 uur aanwezig blijven.  Daarna kan je er geen bruikbare stalen voor onderzoek meer van terugvinden.  Op menselijke lichamen is het gebruik van zulke wapens over langere tijd aantoonbaar. 

 We vonden ook lichamen van burgers die duidelijk niet in een gevechtspositie overleden waren.  Sommigen van hen lagen in hun bed toen ze stierven en ze vertoonden geen uiterlijke verwondingen wat eveneens op het gebruik van chemicaliën duidt.

Maar dit is eigenlijk niet eens belangrijk.  Ook zonder de inzet van deze chemische wapens is er sprake van misdrijven tegen de menselijkheid.  Volgens de Conventies van Genève is het verboden om mensen hun levensbehoeften te ontzeggen.  Dit is in feite een nog veel grotere misdaad dan het gebruik van witte fosfor en napalm. 

De tweede aanval op Fallujah vond meer dan een jaar geleden plaats.  Hoe is de toestand in de stad vandaag? 

Fallujah wordt nog steeds belegerd; het is een gevangenis.  Zonder identiteitskaart kan men zich er niet verplaatsen.  Mensen die de stad in willen moeten irisscans en vingerafdrukken laten nemen.  Het is ook niet eenvoudig om zich te verplaatsen in de stad.  Er zijn vaste tijden bepaald waarop men in en uit de stad kan.  Rondom bevinden zich 5 Amerikaanse controleposten, die door het aanhoudend verzet in Fallujah nog dagelijks aangevallen worden.  De mensen zullen nooit vergeten wat hen is aangedaan en ze willen de bezetters weg. 

Op weblogs waar de burgerslachtoffers van Fallujah ter sprake komen lees je geregeld reacties van mensen die beweren dat het de burgers hun eigen schuld is.  Ze zijn tenslotte vooraf gewaarschuwd en werden opgeroepen om de stad op voorhand te verlaten.  Hoe denk jij hierover? 

Ten tijde van de eerste aanval op Fallujah werd niemand gewaarschuwd; niemand was voorbereid.  Vlak voor het begin van de tweede belegering werden vrouwen en kinderen inderdaad opgeroepen de stad te verlaten.  Hiervoor moesten ze langs de Amerikaanse controleposten passeren.  Via luidsprekers vernam de bevolking dat mannen tussen 18 en 35 jaar er niet uit mochten.  Kan je je voorstellen dat moeders, dochters, zusters en echtgenotes hun zonen, vaders, broers en echtgenoten achterlaten in een stad die op het punt staat zowat de zwaarste aanval van de oorlog te ondergaan.  Het is toch niet meer dan normaal dat ze besloten hun naasten ter zijde te staan.

Bovendien was er helemaal niets voorzien om de vluchtelingen op te vangen.  De mensen die toch toelating hadden om de stad te verlaten konden nergens heen en verkozen zich in hun huizen te verschansen in plaats van zonder enige voorzieningen de woestijn in te vluchten.

 

Sinds meer dan een half jaar worden permanent andere steden langs de Eufraat zwaar gebombardeerd.  De media beperken zich tot sporadische vermelding van de officiële versie van het leger en de regering.  Wat heb jij er gezien? 

Ik nam deel aan hulpmissies naar Rawah, Hit, Haditha, Al-Qaim en Tal Afar.  Dit zijn kleinere steden dan Fallujah.  Het leger gebruikte er de zelfde strategie en de aanvallen waren van vergelijkbare intensiteit.  Toch waren er ook verschillen.  In Qaim werden bijvoorbeeld de zogenaamde smart bombs gebruikt.  Die danken hun naam aan de bewering dat ze doelgericht tegen rebellen kunnen worden ingezet; stel je voor, deze bommen doden geen burgers, enkel rebellen!

Het gaat om kleine bommen, slechts 500 kg.  Wanneer zo een bom inslaat, ontstaat een krater van vijf à zes meter diep en alles in een omtrek van vijfhonderd meter wordt weggeveegd.  Deze ‘slimme bommen’ deden het aantal slachtoffers drastisch toenemen.  Er vielen veel slachtoffers onder de kinderen, want hele families werden onder het puin van hun huis bedolven. 

In Al-Qaim, een stad van 80.000 inwoners vielen bij één aanval op een district van de stad alleen al veertig burgerslachtoffers.  In Haditha heb ik weet van een bombardement met 31 dodelijke burgerslachtoffers. 

Maar dat is niet alles.  Door de steden te verwoesten zijn duizenden mensen moeten vluchten.  In West-Irak leven naar schatting momenteel een 6.400 vluchtelingenfamilies.  Velen van hen verblijven in de woestijn zonder dak boven hun hoofd; anderen wonen in auto’s.  Het ontbreekt hen aan alle essentiële voorzieningen, en mogelijkheden tot medische verzorging zijn in de afgelegen gebieden al helemaal beperkt. 

Vinden er dan geen internationale observatiemissies plaats om deze misdaden vast te stellen?  Ook in de officiële media horen we hierover nagenoeg niets. 

Van internationale mensenrechtenorganisaties zoals Amnesty International of Human Rights Watch hebben we niet veel te verwachten.  In 2004 meldde AI dat er mogelijks schendingen van de mensenrechten plaatsvinden.  Dat is het.  Er zijn overduidelijke bewijzen voor inbreuken op het internationaal recht, en Amnesty verklaart dat het zou kunnen dat de mensenrechten in Irak geschonden worden.

Voor wat de media betreft, die zijn na de eerste belegering van Fallujah niet meer in de buurt geweest.  Zij berichten vanuit de hotels in de Green Zone in Bagdad.  Deze zwaarbeveiligde vestiging beslaat ongeveer 5 km; de rest van Irak is de Red Zone.

We hebben wel als enige Irakese organisatie een uitnodiging ontvangen van de Wereldgezondheidsorganisatie in Genève.  Ongeveer anderhalve maand geleden heb ik daar rapporten voorgelegd tijdens een sessie over de humanitaire crisis in West-Irak en de problemen met het gezondheidssysteem.  Ik heb de WHO er opgeroepen om internationale hulporganisaties aan te moedigen opnieuw in Irak te opereren, een onderzoek naar de inbreuken tegen de Conventies van Genève betreffende de medische neutraliteit in te stellen en druk uit te oefenen om het wangedrag van de bezettingsmachten te stoppen.  We wachten momenteel nog op een reactie van de Wereldgezondheidsorganisatie, maar ondertussen heeft zich wel al een hulporganisatie bereid verklaard naar Irak te vertrekken. 

Wat doet Doctors for Iraq om te helpen? 

Het is een heel zware taak voor onze kleine organisatie.  In de eerste plaats organiseren we konvooien met hulpgoederen naar de vluchtelingenkampen.  Dit is directe hulp voor de slachtoffers en natuurlijk van grote betekenis voor de getroffenen. 

Maar veel belangrijker voor de toekomst van Irak is een oplossing te vinden voor het probleem van de brain drain, de geforceerde emigratie van hoogopgeleide medici, waardoor de Irakese samenleving beduidend wordt verzwakt.  Een uitgesproken voorbeeld hiervan is de zaak van van dr. Talib Khairiullah, voormalig hoofd van het Irakees cardiologisch centrum.  In 2003 werd hij gedwongen zijn ontslag in te dienen, omdat hij lid was van de Baathpartij.  Na herhaaldelijke pesterijen besloot hij het land te verlaten.  Voor zijn ontslag behandelde hij duizend patiënten per maand en was de enige houder van een certificaat van het American board, een belangrijke titel voor hooggekwalificeerde medische specialisten.  Zijn faam reikte tot buiten de grenzen van Irak.  Na zijn ontslag protesteerde het personeel van het cardiologisch centrum.  Tijdens een gesprek met de toenmalige Amerikaanse gezondheidsminister in Irak bleek, dat 25 van de 26 jonge specialisten die onder supervisie van dr. Khairiullah werkten vanuit Washington het bevel kregen hun werkzaamheden stop te zetten.  Ook zij verlieten Irak en werken nu in buurland Jordanië.

In 2004 startte de Medical School van Bagdad het eerste semester met slechts 60 % van het onderwijzend personeel.  Tegen het tweede semester restten er nog 50 %.  Aan het departement oftamologie bleven slechts 2 van de 9 practikanten over. 

Werd je zelf ooit geviseerd?

Ja.  Tot drie keer toe hebben de Amerikanen ons thuis overvallen.  De laatste keer arresteerden ze mijn 65-jarige vader.  Ze hielden hem gedurende 8 uur vast en tijdens zijn aanhouding werd hij op de gebruikelijke wijze vernederd.  Toen namen ze mijn twee zussen mee op het dak van ons huis.  Ze brachten mijn vader bij hen en vernederden hem voor hun ogen.  Vervolgens drukten ze hem één van hun geweren in de hand en trachtten hem te dwingen zichzelf te doden terwijl zijn dochters moesten toekijken.  De mensen uit de buurt hebben de Irakese politie geroepen om tussenbeide te komen.  Die kwamen in hun wagens aangereden, maar zegden dat ze niets konden ondernemen.  Uiteindelijk werd mijn vader toch vrijgelaten.  Daarna zijn ze nog een keer teruggekomen om het huis te doorzoeken. 

Is er iets dat we van hieruit kunnen doen om te helpen? 

Natuurlijk zijn hulpgoederen en financiële steun zeer belangrijk en meer dan welkom.  We moeten de hele tijd medische teams uitzenden en hebben voor deze hulpmissies vooral operatiesets nodig.  Maar het grote probleem is dat we bijna niet kunnen werken.  We worden constant gehinderd in de uitvoering van ons werk. 

Laat me het voorbeeld van het hospitaal in Haditha geven. Begin mei ontplofte op 500 m van dat hospitaal een autobom nabij een Amerikaans konvooi.  Ook het ziekenhuis zelf leed hierbij schade.  De soldaten kwamen naar het hospitaal en beweerden dat de rebellen zich er verschanst hadden.  Ze vielen het ziekenhuis binnen alsof het een militair kamp was, met geluids- en lichtbommen en met scherpschutters.  Het hospitaal werd van 9 uur ‘s avonds tot middernacht bezet.  In één van de operatiekamers arresteerden ze alle dokters, zodat die de aan gang zijnde operaties niet konden voortzetten.  De directeur van het ziekenhuis moest hen door het gebouw begeleiden.  Hij had een sleutel van de verschillende zalen, maar die mocht hij niet gebruiken.  Elke deur bliezen ze op en ze vernietigden alles wat ze op hun weg tegenkwamen.  De artsen waarschuwden hen geen munitie te gebruiken omwille van de aanwezige ontvlambare producten.  Hiermee hielden ze echter geen rekening en ze zetten het depot en de wasplaats in brand.  Het vuur bleef 9 uur branden en ze ondernamen geen enkele poging het vuur te doven.  Een 35-jarige patiënt werd in zijn ziekenbed vermoord.  Na deze inval hebben we geprobeerd om de schade te herstellen.  Volgens het officiële rapport bedragen de kosten aan het gebouw 200.000.000 Iraakse Dinar.  Op het einde van de zelfde maand kwamen de soldaten terug en ze vernietigden het hospitaal opnieuw.  De eerste dag van de Ramadan, in oktober, bezetten de militairen het hospitaal 7 dagen lang en gebruikten het als militair kamp.  De artsen gaven hierover een persmededeling, waarop geen reactie kwam.  Twee dokters werden gearresteerd en de directeur en een arts werden ervan beschuldigd rebellen te behandelen.

Naast financiële hulp en goederen hebben we dringend nood aan vrijwilligers om artsen op te leiden, aangezien zoveel van onze medici gedwongen worden het land te verlaten.  Ideaal zou zijn om een netwerk van zulke vrijwilligers tot stand te brengen. 

Steun voor Doctors for Iraq kan gestort worden op rekeningnummer 001-1951-388-18 van Geneeskunde voor de Derde Wereld met vermelding van ‘Doctors for Iraq’ of rechtstreeks aan Doctors for Iraq via: 

HSBC Bank plc.

56 Cornmarket ,Oxford

Oxfordshire ,

OX1 3HY

Account Name : Doctors for Iraq

Account Number : 92302349

Branch Sort Code : 40-35-34

De website van Doctors for Iraq is nog onder constructie en zal vermoedelijk vanaf december of januari operatief zijn.

www.doctorsforiraq.org 

De auteur van dit interview is lid van het uitvoerend comité van het BRussells Tribunal, een burgerinitiatief dat de mensenrechtenschendingen in Irak en de illegaliteit van de Tweede Golfoorlog aanklaagt. 


Broken Promises  

Dr. Salam T. Ismael, General secretary Doctors for Iraq Society, BRussells Tribunal. 01 Feb. 2006.

I’ve been away from my homeland Iraq for a few months working on raising awareness of the deteriorating health situation in my country across Europe and the world.

 I am a doctor and an aid worker focusing on strengthening the healthcare system in my country that has been badly affected by sanctions and war. I have been counting down the days and hours of my return to Iraq, despite knowing how difficult it would be to return because of the awful reality of the ‘new’ Iraq, despite being told by my family and colleagues that I should concentrate on my career and build a future outside Iraq- I can not forget or abandon my country.

When eventually I set foot in Baghdad after a very long and tiring road journey from Amman I felt relieved and felt like I could breathe with ease – the first time in months.  I love the sky in Iraq, the sand, the smells and sounds – I was finally back home.

I arrived in Baghdad on the first day of Eid, one of the most important dates in the Muslim calendar, a day that is characterized by happiness on the faces of children who fill the streets with toys, showing off their new clothes to mark the celebration and sharing in the spirit of the day.

This Eid, like the previous two, the streets have been empty. As I entered the city, the sadness and depression, the silence of the streets hit me like a wave. It was raining hard- almost like the sky was crying in solidarity with the people – acknowledging the sorrow of the people trying to carve out a life in the shattered country.

 On the day I arrived in Baghdad US President George Bush had made a speech to announce that his administration would no longer be spending billions of dollars as it had promised to rebuild the ‘new Iraq’. The newspaper headline read ‘Promises of reconstruction of Iraq plugged out’. I wasn’t at all surprised by what I was reading- to be honest not very much surprises me anymore. I only read the newspapers these days out of curiosity; it’s an old habit of mine that I have been unable to shake off. Mr Bush had told the world that he will be unable to commit his country to rebuild Iraq , announcing that  money won’t be made available under the ‘Marshal Programme’ as had been previously promised. Instead we Iraqis have been told that we have to take responsibility  to rebuild our own country.

This announcement has had a big impact on the Iraqi street and has also made the average Iraqi believe that the US is loosing its battle in Iraq- the ‘war on Iraq’ is costing the US government a fortune according to the White House’s own analyst. The US is loosing between 4-5 billion dollars a month. Many hundreds and thousands of Iraqis were convinced that once the war was over the US would rebuild the shattered country and the average Iraqi would be better off thanks to the invasion. This hope faded away very early on as day after day of the occupation the majority of Iraqis began to realize the awful truth that the US invasion was orchestrated without a proper plan as to how to rebuild the country.

Whilst engaging in conversations with Iraqis in coffee shops or whilst going about my daily business with the medical NGO I work with, people come up to me to discuss the reality of their daily lives. Many of them describe Iraq as another Afghanistan, where all the promises of rebuilding the war torn, poverty struck country have amounted to nothing. Aid is offered in “donor conferences” and long term ‘low interest’ loans to ‘kick start the economy’ but almost five years on from the war of aggression on Afghanistan, the country remains broken and desperate.

Iraq is sinking in a pool of violence and if I’m honest even I have been shocked at how depressing it is here. I have spent the past week meeting up with my fellow doctors but they seem to be thin on the ground. So many of them have been forced to flee the country because of violence. The quality and service of medical care has suffered because of this ‘brain drain’ and a lack of resources to equip hospitals with adequate medical equipment. Last week the Iraqi Ministry of Health announced that it will cost between $7-8 billion over the next four years to bring the level of medical care to the same standards of care before the invasion of Iraq. Whilst visiting some of the hospitals in Baghdad I have seen for myself what impact the shortages of simple medication and equipment is having on the quality of health care. Many hospital are lacking enough IV fluids in wards and there is a shortage of antibiotics and medicines in clinics, especially in remote areas.

The Ministry of  Health also announced that despite the US military promising to rehabilitate 19 hospitals in Iraq over the past two years they have only managed to re-equip one hospital in the city of  Najaf . Iraqi doctors, medical staff and people are left to ask who will fund their hospitals now? We fear for the future of our healthcare and the prospect of privatization. The US administration sees the ‘new’ Iraq as the protocol for the Middle East.

Officials in the ministry of Oil have announced big rises in the price of petrol. Prices have gone up 100% so the price of one litre of petrol has increased from 20 Iraqi dinar to 150 Iraqi dinar and that’s IF you can find petrol. On the black market fuel is being sold at 500 Iraqi dinar for one litre of fuel. The Iraqi governments’ response to these price increases is to argue that the World Bank and other organizations are forcing the government to increase prices. The Iraqi government claims it’s paying a heavy price for World Bank’s polices and is over burdened with foreign loans which are set to cripple the people and economy further. Everywhere I go people are talking about the policies of the World Bank and average Iraqi’s are taking it to the streets to protest about the huge price raises in fuel and other commodities. Recently there was a riot that lead to the death of one man.  Fuel price increases make Iraqi people fear privatization even more- believing that the average Iraqi family will be worse off now than when they were under sanctions- desperately trying to make ends meet.

I am pessimistic and optimistic about the future of my country. I feel pessimistic when I look back at all the promises that we Iraqi’s have been spoon fed about how Iraq would benefit from ‘democracy’ and how people would have a better standard of living. Like many Iraqis I fear that the loans handed out to Iraq by the West will ultimately weaken the economy and we Iraqis will become prisoners of debts, interests and the policies of Wolfowitz’ World Bank.


Samarra Bombing and the third anniversary of mess

Dr Salam Ismael
2nd April 2006
 

I worked in many areas of conflict inside Iraq over the past three years and have witnessed many horrific scenes of slaughter and innocent people being shred to pieces. I felt pain and bitterness inside me but this is the first time since the invasion of Baghdad that I have felt anxious about my country and the direction that it's taking. I've always been confident that Iraq would never descend into civil war.

A few days after the crime in Samarra was committed, the shrine of Imam Hassan Al Haidi was attacked and bombed. The proceeding days and hours were extremely hard for everyone of us. Many Sunni mosques were attacked and in some cases burnt down. Militia wearing black uniforms - belonging to one of the political parties orchestrated a campaign of violence and intimidation bringing chaos and fear to the streets. For the first time I felt that the country could be on the edge of civil war.

People closed down their shops. Families phoned their loved ones to return home and locked their doors. Bodies of young men- shot from close range were found in the streets of Baghdad. People started preparing their guns and brought weapons from local shops to protect themselves. Blockades were constructed to protect homes, mosques and businesses. I am the son of a Shiaa mother and a Sunni father and live in a mixed neighbourhood of the city. My mother was scared every time I left the house to go to the hospital or morgue as part of my work documenting the human rights violations and killings in the days following the attack on the shrine. My mother kept phoning me asking where I was, what I was doing and demanding that I return home. The fear of loved ones being killed in a potential civil war had a deep impact on all Iraqis regardless of their religious background. In the following days I felt that this fear was the thing that united most ordinary Iraqis who are living outside the green zone struggling with the difficulties of daily lives.

When I witnessed young shias protecting a Sunni mosque in my neighbourhood alongside sunni I breathed a sigh of relief. I saw a thirteen year old boy at around four in the morning with his khafiya wrapped around his head carrying a gun. I saw the child falling asleep from time to time whilst standing on his feet with his gun. He was there to protect his mosque from and the community from the wave of madness that was being unleashed my the militia. During this time I felt the same emotions as I did during the siege of Fallujah where I was working as a doctor. We had run out of food and were depressed and loosing hope. The first truck that broke the blockade to bring food to us was a shia convoy carrying aid. They entered Fallujah announcing on a loud speaker 'we came here to help you' they raised their fingers in a victory salute and brought us hope. Then as now I remembered the old Arab saying 'the blow that doesn't kill you can only make you stronger'. I realised the fabric of Iraqi society would never be shred to pieces - we are more united now than ever before and believe that we have turned the corner and that civil war is a distant possibility.

In the last three years US hummers were patrolling all over Baghadad. The highway in front of my house was now empty of soldiers and four days following the attack on the shrine the soldiers had vanished.. The same story was repeated in neighbourhoods across Baghdad. People were asking where are the US soldiers, the tanks and why are they not protecting us and our

Neighbourhoods?

The occupiers failed to uphold their responsibility under the Geneva Convention to maintain law and order and protect civilians in the areas they are controlling. The occupiers told us that they had invaded Iraq to protect us but now when we needed protection they were nowhere to be seen. Why didn't they try and stop the violence and attacks?

I participated in an interview with the BBC who told me that the coalition forces couldn't get involved in this issue as they would be seen as supporting one side against the other. My response and the response of many Iraqis is well- why are they here? Who are they protecting? This goes back to the old question of the demand of Iraqis - that the coalition forces leave. Two days after the attack of Samara two British soldiers in Basra were killed as Iraqis are becoming more angry and frustrated that these soldiers are in their country and want them to leave.

In every society it's the police and army that take responsibility for enforcing law and order. The trust of the people is essential if law and order is to be carried out effectively. This trust collapsed following the attack of the shrine. People blockaded themselves into their homes and took up arms to protect themselves and their families. The army and police stood at the edges and observed what was happening. Militia wearing police and army uniforms carried out attacks against civilians. This has created a total breakdown in the trust and confidence of the people to these authorities that are supposed to serve and protect us.

What kind of future does Iraq have riddled with these militia and flooded with a sea of weapons? Samara is a good example of how militia disgusted in uniform are carrying out killings and terrorising Iraqis.

Two days on from the attack in Samara and the murder of hundreds of people by militia a strike was carried out by fifty doctors in one of the main hospitals in Baghdad. Doctors were unable to work because people were threatening them with guns and violence to save the lives or treat patients admitted to the hospital. I went to the hospital to assist the doctors with their actions. The doctors described how one of the doctors was taken at gun point to treat a member of the militia inside the hospital. The doctors were on strike for a day before they were forced to return to their duties.

I was horrified seeing the number of weapons people were carrying inside the hospital. How can doctors work to save lives when their own lives are being threatened?

This leads me onto ask the question what kind of future do Iraqi's face under the rule of the militia instead of the rule of government and law?

Today marks the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. The invasion was carried out in the name of human rights and democracy. An invasion in the name of weapons of mass destruction. An invasion that has cost the lives of hundreds and thousands of innocent Iraqis. An invasion that was supposed to show Iraqis the light at the end of the tunnel has instead brought more darkness. We Iraqis are still waiting to come out of the tunnel and see the light.

This invasion has caused the breakdown of law and order, the governmental system has been destroyed. The bullet and bomb now rules the streets and the cheapest thing inside Iraq is the life of a human being. From the chaotic picture that I have described to you- one must ask who is responsible for what has happened? For making Iraq and open battle field? Who is responsible for arming the militia? Who is responsible for dissolving the army and police? Many Iraqis believe that if this situation was intended it is nothing short of a crime. If the outcome is a result of misplanning then it's an even bigger crime. George Bush and Tony Blair who claim to be the guards of democracy and human rights are responsible for this crime. This 'misplanning' can be repeated anytime in anyplace. In the last three years thousands have lost their lives and human rights and democracy is being smashed around the world under the hammer of the so called 'war on terror'.

 

THOUSANDS OF DISPLACED FAMILIES FLEE RAMADI AS HOSPITALS RUN OUT OF MEDICINE:

CITY IS THREATENED BY MASSIVE US / IRAQI MILITARY ATTACK.

Dr. Salam T. Ismael (General secretary of Doctors For Iraq Society - Iraq) - BRussells Tribunal (26/06/2006)

Doctors for Iraq has received reports that an estimated 3,250 families from the city of Ramadi have been forced to flee the city because of the threat of an imminent US/ Iraqi military attack on the city. 

Ramadi is the capital of Anbar Province in the west of Iraq and is home to an estimated 500,000 people. Many thousands of people are now displaced trying to flee the city in fear of a military assault on Ramadi. 

Residents described severe shortages of water and electricity in the past seven days especially in the Al Tameem and Al Azizia quarters of the city. 

All entrances and exists to the city have been sealed off by the US/ Iraqi military with reports of only one passage remaining open through the Al Warar bridge that provides a route out of Ramadi. 

Local shops and markets have remained closed for the past seven days causing a shortage in food as people are unable to buy provisions because the city is under an ongoing military curfew. 

Eyewitness describes a large number of US military units surrounding the city with the formation of two US military bases towards the east and west of the city. Residents have told Doctors for Iraq that the main government building has been occupied by the US military. 

Reports have been received of a large number of snipers in the centre of Ramadi impacting on the movement of civilians trying to escape the city and restricting the movement of doctors and medical units. Doctors for Iraq have received reports of casualties caused by sniper fire. 

The presence of US/ Iraqi military snipers and checkpoints is severely restricting the movement of ambulances and medical personnel in the city. Ramadi has four main hospitals with the main general hospitals still functioning trying to meet the needs of patients and casualties.  

This military activity and the threat of a US/ Iraqi military attack on the city along with checkpoints, curfew and an incursion of the city is having a major impact on delivery of health services for people. A Doctors for Iraq assessment team in Ramadi reports of a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment such as IV fluids, surgical sutures, antibiotics and aesthetic drugs. Our teams described the situation in the city and the plight of displaced families as being desperate. 

Doctors for Iraq know that an estimated 1,000 displaced families have fled to Heet, West Iraq. 

The displaced people are being forced to live in old unused buildings and schools and are facing a shortage of food, water, blankets and medical care.  

Already our medical teams have seen cases of young children suffering from diarrhoea and reported adults facing a shortage of drugs to control hyper tension and ischemic heart disease (angina). 

Doctors for Iraq is deeply concerned about the general humanitarian situation in Ramadi. The health infrastructure in the area has been severely impacted on by continuous military attacks in the area. Doctors for Iraq are concerned about the plight of thousands of civilians who have fled the city and the many civilians that remain in the city. 

Doctors for Iraq is calling for: 

· An immediate stop to any planned military attack on a densely populated city full of civilians. 

· International NGO’s and agencies to assist internally displaced people fleeing Ramadi and civilians that remain inside the city so they have water, food, shelter and protection. 

· Assistance to provide medical humanitarian aid to civilians in need and to provide medication and medical equipment to hospitals in need. 

· Doctors for Iraq calling on the US/ Iraqi military and all armed actors to uphold the principles of international law and ensure that civilians have a safe passage out of the city and can access healthcare free of intimidation and violence. 

For more information about the medical needs of hospitals please contact Doctors for Iraq at:

press.officer@doctorsforiraq.org or projects.manager@doctorsforiraq.org


HUMANITARIAN SUFFERING  DEEPENS IN BESIEGED IRAQI CITY OF SAMARRA
*16th May 2007*

Doctors for Iraq is gravely concerned about the humanitarian and health needs of residents of the Iraqi city of Samara that has been under siege by US and Iraqi troops for the past two weeks.


Samara, 124 km north of Baghdad is one the largest cities in the Salah Aldeen governorate with an estimated population of 200 000 inhabitants. The city has come under a number of US and Iraqi military attacks in the past nine months.

US and Iraqi troops have encircled the city from all sides with soldiers placing very strict control on the movement of people entering and leaving the city. Soldiers claim that insurgents and terrorists are   operating in the area. The military operation is crippling the inhabitants of the city and civilians are unable to access healthcare. Doctors for Iraq condemns in the strongest terms any activities that prevent civilians from accessing healthcare or humanitarian assistance by all actors engaged in the conflict.

Doctors for Iraq has received detailed information about the impact of the ongoing military siege on the cities inhabitants. The main hospital in the city which was already short of medical supplies before this latest military operation says it's in urgent need of medication to treat hypertension, diabetes and chronic surgical diseases.

Doctors for Iraq has been told the extended hours of curfew especially inside the city it self , the strict and restricted movement of civilians through heavily armed military checkpoints at the cities entrances has severely restricted civilians access to health services. Some inhabitants and local NGOs report a shortage of food and are calling for food supplies to be allowed into the city.

*Doctors for Iraq* calls for:

  1. The immediate and full lifting of the military siege of Samara as   these kind of military actions are an act of  collective punishment on the cities inhabitants and cause deeper hardship for people.
  2. Immediate and full access for local NGOs and health workers into the city. For food and humanitarian aid to be allowed into the city so people can be given safe, free and immediate access to food and medicines.
  3. The government of Iraq to bring an end to all military activities that breach the Geneva Conventions and discriminate against unarmed civilians.

*Ends*

For more information contact DFI press officer at press.officer@doctorsforiraq.org or Dr Salam Ismael at
salam.obaidi@doctorsforiraq.org