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“Iraq – Baghdad Doctor”

On Tuesday, 20 February 2007, ABC broadcasted a very unique documentary in its program “Foreign Correspondent” produced by an Iraqi doctor at Al Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad.
According to other web sites, this hospital – the second largest in the country – used to be a normal neighbourhood clinic until the US led war against Iraq.  For some time it was caught in the middle of cross fire between the invading forces and Iraqi troops and therefore severely damaged.  After the fall of Baghdad 9 April 2003 this hospital was raided and looted as many other public buildings in the city.  Today the hospital is situated in one of the most dangerous areas of Baghdad, treating mainly victims of this current civil war.
The film covered the last few days of this local doctor in his own hospital who remained unnamed for not to endanger his life.  In spite of all distrust and enmity amongst the different factions in the city and around the hospital, he was allowed to publish the hospital’s current situation.
Watching and listening to his account turned out to be one of my most moving experiences for quite a while.  Obviously filmed with a hand held camera the author presents most shocking situations the hospital staff is facing while trying to help victims of al-Quaida and radical Sunni suicide bombers.  The hospital has to cope with an extreme shortage of medical supply, not to talk about blood replacement or any sophisticated medical technology.  Financial support allocated by the international community never reached this – as probably many other – hospitals.
Besides the really appalling images of war torn hospital reality in Iraq, the documentary very intensively describes the mental and physical stress and despair of the medical staff.  On the one hand it shows doctors and nurses of the various religious factions in Iraq working side by side to help victims irrespectively of their own affiliation and always under the risk of being bombing targets themselves – simply for their commitment to treat anyone alike, Sunni, Shiite or whoever may be brought in.  The unnamed doctor turned filmmaker interviewed patients and their relatives who unanimously condemned this factional war, and of course the allied forces who caused that disaster in the first place.  But especially local people speaking into the camera denounced this indiscriminate killing as cowardly murdering brothers and sisters alike.  Three people in an ambulance car are quoted by saying “We’re all brothers! We’re all Iraqis! Why is this happening? …Brothers killing brothers! … Oh God help us. Oh God help us …”  The author also refers to the leading doctor who observed
“We’ve lost everything. Our children have lost their happiness. We’ve lost our hopes and our safety. You wont be able to find Iraqi who’s happy and content and that’s out of twenty million. You wont find a smile on the faces of more than ten or twenty of us so I think those who can still laugh are maybe twenty out of twenty million and they are probably psychopaths.”
This said, the doctor nevertheless promised not to leave his hospital and staff alone.
On the other hand the author’s desperation, after having worked in this hospital for the past five years, all through the war, shows by him stating, “The known terror of Saddam was more bearable then the random terror of a bomb going off as they [the victims] walk down the street.“  When in the days of his filming in the hospital the head of its security guard was shot as well, the filmmaker couldn’t continue anymore with his documentation and had to leave Baghdad.
One of his final remarks, though, is his assessment, that it is only due to the allied forces’ presence, which guarantees a minimum of safety.  In spite of this documentary being almost certainly a personal and honest account (filmed in mid-2006), this statement leaves the listener with mixed feelings – it certainly supports US led widely publicised policy of continued presence in the Iraq and the Middle East over against all common sense.
Gerhard Ruediger

Sources (as of 14.3.2007):

  • http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2007/s1846820.htm (and transcript, from 20.2.2007)
  • http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/640/re10.htm (from 29 May to 4 June 2003)
(Written for a TAFE ESL course in March 2007)
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