“I’m tired of this,” grumbles 74-year-old Bidu Abbass. “This morgue is old. There’s not enough room,” he said, pointing at a refrigerated metal room by the hospital gate.
“Sometimes they bring 15 bodies, sometimes 20, sometimes 30,” he said, grimacing as he remembers occasions when the morgue’s refrigeration units have been knocked out by power cuts. “The smell kills.”
The Imam Ali general hospital in Sadr City has become a field clinic for fighters and others wounded in clashes between US occupation forces and fighters loyal to Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
Clashes broke out at the weekend in Sadr City, which was not included in a peace deal last week ending fighting between al-Sadr loyalists and US and Iraqi forces in Najaf.
The hospital’s young staff is yearning for peace.
The stink in the morgue is killing
They struggle against supply shortages and risk death to treat both the wounded and the many suffering from disease in the slum, where pools of sewage fill potholes and dead animals decay in the streets.
“It’s like we’re going to the frontline,” said Dr Ghazwan Ghalyan, who was shot in the neck on his way to work last week.
“The streets were blocked, they were filled with tanks. So we got out of the car and started walking, then a bullet struck me and I fell unconscious,” the 25-year-old said.
“The bullet entered here and left here,” he said, pointing at blood-soaked bandages on either side of his neck. “One centimetre further forward and it would have shattered my spinal column.”
There is severe shortage of
Like Ghalyan, many of those wounded in fighting were shot either in the chest or above, the hospital doctors said. “That’s where the Americans aim,” Dr Samir Saaid said. “We can’t treat them. They die in transit to another hospital,” he said.
The doctors struggle against shortages of basic equipment including blood transfusion kits. Fighting, which first erupted in Sadr City in early April, has even cut the hospital’s supplies of clean water, which is delivered by tankers.
“One time we couldn’t find drinking water for eight hours,” said surgeon Sarmad Adnan, who was previously an Iraqi army doctor. “I now see things I never saw in the army.”
“One time we couldn’t find drinking water for eight hours”
When clashes erupt, the hospital is filled with the frantic relatives of the wounded, who block corridors and make it difficult for doctors to treat the casualties, 27-year-old doctor Laith Ghazi said.
Relatives often threaten doctors who they think are not doing enough for the wounded.
“Many times my colleagues have been struck. Sometimes those relatives are even carrying machine guns,” Ghazi said.
Ghazi says his work, which pays $140 per month, gives him anxiety. “But I have to do my duty,” he said.
The doctors who say disease is rife in Sadr City hope the fighting will end soon. “We have a lot of work anyway,” Saaid said. “The water is dirty. The sewage system is exhausted.”