There Is No Sanctity In Baghdad

IRAQ: Armed groups occupy hospitals and kidnap doctors
© Afif Sarhan/IRIN

BAGHDAD, 13 Feb 2007 (IRIN) – Iraqi troops, US-led coalition forces and insurgents are all guilty of breaking Geneva conventions that govern the neutrality of hospitals, say health specialists. The increasing risk of being shot or arrested in a hospital in Iraq is preventing ordinary citizens from seeking medical attention.

“The Geneva convention states that a hospital is and should remain neutral and accessible to everybody, particularly civilians. Yet, when it’s occupied by armed groups or official forces, people would not have this free and humanitarian access,” said Cedric Turlan, information officer for the NGO Coordinating Committee in Iraq (NCCI).

Turlan said that hospitals are getting caught in the midst of violent clashes between insurgents and US or Iraqi troops, and between Sunni and Shia militias. In the course of these battles, ambulances are sometimes destroyed or confiscated and entire hospitals, particularly in the restive Anbar province, are taken over by a particular armed group – whether official or non-official.

This is deterring patients from seeking medical help in hospitals and is making the provision of health care an almost impossible task, say specialists.

According to Turlan, the most recent example of a hospital occupation happened in December 2006, in Ramadi, some 115km west of the capital, Baghdad.

The general hospital there is located in the highly tense district of Al-Sofiya. According to officials working at the hospital, 13 civilians were killed by snipers in the first week of November 2006 as they were entering the hospital to get treatment.

Snipers on the hospital roof

As such, less than 10 percent of the hospital’s staff was still working there when US-led forces burst into the hospital many times during the day and night looking for snipers on the hospital’s roof.

“The multinational forces were outside, surrounding the hospital but they intruded into the hospital on a daily basis. Now, people rarely go to the hospital because they fear being shot or arrested. Ramadi hospital also functions as a registration centre for the new Iraqi police and army,” Turlan said.

For several months now, patients have refrained from using the hospital for fear of being shot by snipers or by US-led forces.

According to reports received by NCCI, Mosul Hospital is also occupied by military forces these days and ambulances have been attacked regularly by all forces fighting in Najaf, Fallujah and other parts of Anbar.

A report released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq on 31 December 2006 said that its Human Rights Office had submitted an official memorandum in November to Major General Thomas Moore, chief-of-staff of the multinational forces in Iraq.

The memo requested more detailed information on a number of incidents involving coalition force activities in Ramadi and Fallujah and raised the issue of the military using facilities protected by the Geneva Conventions, such as hospitals and schools. To date, no response has yet been received.

IRIN contacted the press office of the multinational forces in Baghdad but received no response.

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