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The US Obstructed Medical Care in Fallujah


Doctors from the General Hospital of Fallujah, as well as others involved with clinics throughout the city, are reporting that US Marines obstructed their services during the fighting that engulfed this city in April. They also said US snipers intentionally targeted their clinics and ambulances in the city during the siege.


“The Marines have said they didn’t close the hospital, but essentially they did,” said Dr. Abdul Jabbar, an orthopedic surgeon at the General Hospital. “They closed the bridge which connects us to the city, closed our road, and the area in front of our hospital was full of their soldiers and vehicles.”


Major T.V. Johnson, public affairs officer for the 1st Marine Division, said the effective sealing off of the hospital from the city was an essential part of his unit’s strategy, and pointed out that the bridge leading to it was reopened on April 17, two weeks into the intense fighting.


“The cordon around the city was wholly necessary for the military operations in Fallujah,” Johnson said. “As soon as it was possible from a military standpoint, the cordon was adjusted to allow greater access to the hospital.” He declined to explain what military criteria were applied to determine the necessity of segregating the hospital from the city.


Dr. Jabbar, who also worked inside the city at a small clinic treating people who were unable to reach the general hospital in April, blamed the military for shooting civilian ambulances, as well as for shooting near his clinic. “Some days we couldn’t leave, or even go near the door because of the snipers,” he said. “They were shooting at the front door of the clinic.”


In a separate incident recounted by Dr. Rashid, an ambulance driver was shot in the leg by what he said was a US sniper. That ambulance driver survived, Dr. Rashid said, but a man who came to his rescue died on the operating table, after Rashid and others had worked to save him.
He said the clinic had to keep its ambulances in a courtyard so they wouldn’t be damaged in the fighting.


Jabbar also said US snipers shot and killed one of the ambulance drivers for the clinic where he worked during the fighting.


Another doctor who was working at the General Hospital when the fighting started in early April said that at the beginning of the fighting, US soldiers were using their own vehicles to transport wounded Fallujans across the bridge to the hospital. “But after the first two days, they stopped doing this,” the doctor said, preferring only his first name, Ahmed, be used in this story.


“The Americans shot out the lights in the front of our hospital, they prevented doctors from reaching the emergency unit at the hospital, and we quickly began to run out of supplies and much needed medications,” Ahmed recounted. He also reported that Marines at times kept physicians in the residence building and prohibited them from entering the hospital to treat patients.


According to both doctors, US troops frequently entered the hospital to search rooms, but did not offer any assistance in the form of medicine or supplies. “All the time they came in, searched rooms, and wandered around. They told us they were here to protect us,” said Dr. Ahmed.


“Most of our patients left the hospital because they were afraid,” he added.


Other stories continue to emerge of US military personnel interfering with medical treatment at small emergency clinics inside the city during the month of April.


Dr. Rashid, another physician who preferred only his first name be used, worked at a clinic in the Jumaria Quarter of the city in April. He said, “The major problem we found were the American snipers. I saw them on top of the buildings near the mayor’s office.”


He told of one instance when, he believed, the clinic came under fire inadvertently by US gunmen. “One day they were attacking the Al-Jazeera cameraman who was on a nearby building in front of the clinic. So when they shot at him, the bullets came near us.”


While working at another clinic inside the embattled city, Dr. Jabbar said that one of their ambulance drivers was shot and killed by US snipers while he was attempting to collect wounded people.


In a separate incident recounted by Dr. Rashid, an ambulance driver was shot in the leg by what he said was a US sniper. That ambulance driver survived, Dr. Rashid said, but a man who came to his rescue died on the operating table, after Rashid and others had worked to save him.


“He was a volunteer working on the ambulance to help collect the wounded,” Rashid recalled with sadness.


Two of the ambulances in the parking lot of the hospital have bullet holes in the windshields; one of them was riddled with bullet holes, and the tires appear to have been shot out as well.


During an interview earlier this month, Dr. Jabbar, speaking about the snipers, said, “I remember once we sent an ambulance to evacuate a family that was bombed by an aircraft. The ambulance was sniped — one of the family died, and three were injured by the firing.”


Major Johnson refused to say whether Marines had fired on Iraqi ambulances at any time, but he did say civilian emergency vehicles were regularly used by resistance fighters to transport armaments and personnel. Shown photographs of ambulances torched and shot during the fighting, Major Johnson said, “The forces we fought in Fallujah routinely used ambulances as weapons and troop transporters. At that point, those particular vehicles lose their protected status. This would be the only case in which our forces would have fired upon ambulances.”


No direct documentation of the use of ambulances for military purposes by Iraqi guerillas has been offered by the US military.


Both doctors Jabbar and Rashid said no medical or other aid has been delivered to their clinics by the US military. When discussing the situation they faced in April in an earlier interview, Dr. Rashid said, “They send only bombs, not medicine.”


The 1st Marine Division claims its forces “assisted in the transportation and distribution of [food and medical] supplies” throughout the April siege.


The Fourth Geneva Convention, which the US signed, clearly prohibits the use of civilian emergency vehicles and facilities for transportation or sheltering of armed fighting personnel and weapons. It also strictly forbids attacks on emergency vehicles and facilities.

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