by Essam Al-Ghalib – Arab News
NAJAF (April 9, 2003 — Six days after the “liberation” of Najaf, Iraqis of all ages continue to pack the corridors of Saddam Hussein General Hospital.
They are mostly victims of unexploded munitions that are strewn throughout various residential neighborhoods — along streets, in family homes, in school playgrounds, in the fields belonging to farms…
US forces have been using cluster bombs against Iraqi soldiers. But the majority of the victims are civilians, mostly children curious about the small shiny objects that are the same size as a child’s hand.
Cluster bombs, as explained by an administrator at the hospital, have been dropped by the hundreds. They are supposed to explode on impact. However, many do not, and lie on the street exposed to the elements.
A young Iraqi in Najaf told Arab News yesterday: “They are everywhere, and they are going off periodically. We don’t even have to touch them — they just go off by themselves, especially as the temperature rises throughout the day.”
In a residential neighborhood where nine civilians were killed by heavy US shelling last week, a sudden explosion sent this correspondent and civilians running for cover.
Arab News’ Iraqi minder said: “That’s what I keep warning you about. You shouldn’t be walking around these streets as if you were in Hyde Park.”
Dozens of these unexploded cluster bombs were lying around. The US military had been along the street and cordoned off areas with plastic tape marked “Mines” — but only in English.
On that particular street, many Iraqi military vehicles were abandoned, burned out after being targeted by US planes. A resident of the street, who said his uncle and sister were killed in the bombings, told Arab News: “I think the Americans wanted to destroy these military trucks, but in order to do that they had to destroy our neighborhood three streets deep.” Just yards from these trucks lay the rubble of what once were civilian homes, completely destroyed — houses, shelters and cars.
Back at Saddam Hussein General Hospital, a seven-year-old boy, the skin burned off his legs, was being turned away by the doctors. His father, distraught and with a look of desperation on his face, told Arab News as he held his son in his arms: “They say his injuries are minor compared with others here. They say that they can’t waste their medication on him. They won’t even give him pain killers.”
The father was speaking so passionately that his hands were waving about and he had to settle his son down on a nearby car. There the child sat patiently, gripping the car’s side — keeping his burned legs elevated so they did not come into contact with the metal. The burns extended from the soles of his feet to midway up his little thighs.
“He was playing at his school when somehow a munition exploded,” the father explained. “They need to come and clear our schools and homes of these explosives.” The head of the Pediatric Department told Arab News that because of the sanctions of the last 12 years, the hospitals are in a state of near disrepair and medication is scarce.
“A few days after the shelling ended, some American medical services people came to see the hospital,” he said. “They were surprised that we were open with the little medication we have. They promised they would come back with supplies, but we are still waiting. We haven’t had enough electricity to run half of our equipment, our generators are old and unreliable and we have lost power several times.”
Arab News visited several of the hospital’s wards and saw victims of the “liberation” of Najaf. A six-year-old girl suffering from shrapnel injuries, whose leg was drilled to accommodate a bone brace for her broken thigh, started crying as the doctor explained to the journalists present that her right foot had become gangrenous and so would have to be amputated.
In an adjacent ward lay a 15-year-old boy, his left arm missing from below the elbow and his face and stomach severely burned. No one Arab News spoke to was celebrating the reported news of Saddam Hussein’s death. “I don’t believe what we are hearing,” said a 42-year-old hotel receptionist. “Even if he is dead, it’s not worth the price our children and families have paid,” he added.
Saddam Hussein General Hospital alone has seen 307 deaths and treated 920 injuries. Of those, only 20 of the dead and 50 of the injured were soldiers. The people of Najaf need water, electricity and munitions clearing teams more urgently than they need a new government.
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