here for more pictures.
pictures should only be viewed by a mature audience.
Note: Doctors from four hospitals in Baghdad were interviewed in
compiling this report; all asked that their names be left out.
"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.
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, "How can I hold them for the Americans?"
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.
States has also impeded the operation of hospitals in other ways.
Although the first Western reports of U.S. snipers shooting at ambulances
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 Paul Bremer.
any reasonable standard, these hospital closings (and, of
course, the shooting at ambulances) are war crimes.
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.
senior British army commander recently criticized the Americans
for viewing the Iraqis as Untermenschen -- a lower order of
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."
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
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"...
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.
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.
Mahajan is the publisher of Empire Notes and serves on the Administrative
Committee of United for Peace and Justice, the nation's largest
antiwar coalition. His first book, "The New Crusade: America's War
on Terrorism," has been called "mandatory reading for anyone who
wants to get a handle on the war on terrorism," and his most recent
book, "Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond,"
has been described as "essential for those who wish to continue
to fight against empire." He can be reached at [email protected]
The above article is also available at