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Saturday, December 16, 2006

U.S. Troops Raid Hospital Again by Dahr Jamail and Ali Al-Fadhily


Dec. 14 (IPS) - Iraqi doctors and medical staff are outraged over yet another U.S. military raid at Fallujah General Hospital.

The raid followed a roadside bombing Dec. 7 where four Iraqi policemen were killed and two civilians injured. The injured were taken to Fallujah General Hospital.

Shortly after this attack, a U.S. Marine who was on a patrol in the city was wounded by a gunshot.

"U.S. soldiers replied to the source of fire then headed straight to the general hospital across the (Euphrates) river hoping that they had shot and injured the sniper," an eyewitness told IPS.

"American soldiers seem to have some imagination to think wounded fighters might go to that so-called hospital," a retired surgeon told IPS. "We know that they do not trust that place because of the continuous raids by the U.S., and lack of everything in that hospital." The hospital is functioning at minimal capacity due to lack of medicines and equipment, the surgeon said.

Eyewitnesses at Fallujah General Hospital said U.S. soldiers raided the hospital "as if it were a military target."

"We panicked at the way they entered, kicking open doors and blasting locked ones," a nurse told IPS. "A doctor tried to tell them he had keys for the locked doors, but they pointed their guns to his face. Then they told us to go out of the building and they kept us under guard in the garden until the early hours of next morning."

The nurse said the soldiers "would not even allow us to get some blankets to keep us warm; the temperature was below five degrees centigrade."

Doctors and medical staff were arrested and insulted, and some were called terrorists, witnesses said. The hospital was then closed, and could no longer offer even minimal treatment.

"We are used to that kind of behaviour from American soldiers," a hospital employee told IPS. "This was the third time I was in handcuffs with my face down. They have been more vicious with medical staff than others because they consider us the first supporters of those they call terrorists."

The U.S. military said that Marines from Regimental Combat Team 5 entered Fallujah General Hospital in order to search for fighters after two Marines were wounded the previous day in the city.

Lt. Col. Bryan Salas, spokesperson for the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, told reporters: "Coalition forces searched the hospital to ensure that it continues to be a safe place for the citizens of Fallujah to receive the medical treatment they deserve."

This hospital has been raided many times before, particularly in the U.S. military assault on the city April and November 2004.

Two years back, on Dec 13, 2004, IPS reported that the U.S. military was impeding Iraqi health workers around and inside Fallujah, and was deliberately targeting ambulances. In November 2005 IPS reported that the U.S. military had raided two hospitals in Ramadi.

Many Iraqi doctors have been arrested by U.S. forces for various periods of time on suspicion of "supporting terrorism" in Iraq. Many have fled the country for fear of repeated arrests or even killings by U.S. soldiers or sectarian militia death squads.

The independent Iraq Medical Association announced last month that of the 34,000 Iraqi physicians registered prior to 2003, over half have fled the country, and that at least 2,000 have been killed.

Article 12 of the first Geneva Convention states: "(Combatants) who are sick and wounded...shall be treated humanely and cared for by the Party to the conflict in whose power they may be..." The article goes on to state that "any attempts on their lives, or violence to their persons, shall be strictly prohibited..."

Article 24 of the first Geneva Convention states: "Medical personnel exclusively engaged in...transport or treatment of the wounded or sick...(and) staff exclusively engaged in the administration of medical units and establishments...shall be respected and protected in all circumstances."

Under the fourth Geneva Convention, Article 18 reads: "Civilian hospitals organised to care to the wounded and sick, infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict."

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