Friday :: Feb 22, 2008

The Continuing Disaster


by Turkana

As a follow-up to the great news about Moqtada al-Sadr extending his cease-fire, it's important to understand what this means. Obviously, the greatest threat to the war exploding back to the levels of violence of 2006 has been pushed back, which underscores the real reasons for that relative reduction in violence. But al-Sadr also, last week, called off a pact with the rival Shiite Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council. This will further obstruct efforts to create a functional, unified Iraqi government, and raises the specter of another factional breakout in the Iraqi civil war. And, of course, despite the good that has been done by al-Sadr's cease-fire, January saw the highest level of American troop deaths in four months, and February has already been deadlier than December. And then there's the devastation wrought on the Iraqis. The people we were ostensibly in Iraq to help. Or something.

So, what's it like for the Iraqi people? Some 151,000 to 1,000,000+ have died violent deaths. Over four million have fled their homes and become refugees. Outbreaks of cholera. Some 70% of Iraqis without clean water and some 80% without adequate sanitation. A puppet government so corrupt that those fighting it are being murdered or fleeing for their lives. A still inadequate supply of oil and electricity. A nation, overall, that has been called near total collapse. It's little wonder that Kofi Annan had already concluded, more than a year ago, that Iraq was worse off than under Saddam. This is George W. Bush's gift to Iraq. This is the liberation he has brought the Iraqi people. And yesterday's Los Angeles Times has more:

Already a troubled system, Iraqi medical care has fallen to the brink of collapse since the U.S.-led invasion five years ago. Scores of doctors have been slain, cancer patients have to hunt down their own drugs -- even IV fluid is in short supply. On Tuesday, a former deputy health minister and the head of the ministry's security force will stand trial, a year after they were accused of letting Shiite death squads use ambulances and government hospitals to carry out kidnappings and killings.

Specialists are hard to find. At one point, Baghdad -- a city of more than 5 million -- had no neurosurgeon, said Dr. Hussein al-Hilli, director of the Ibn Albitar Hospital in Baghdad.

"This was something that was horrible because we had many head injuries, many spinal injuries," al-Hilli said. He described "big shortages of drugs, big shortages of everything" -- including IV fluid. "This simple thing, we don't have."

Like so many areas of life in Iraq, the health care crisis is vast and complex, and there is no quick solution to improve conditions for doctors and patients.

According to figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry released earlier this year, 618 medical employees, including 132 doctors, as well as medics and other health care workers, have been killed nationwide since 2003, among the professionals from many fields caught up in Iraq's sectarian violence.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of other medical personnel are believed to have fled to Iraq's northern semiautonomous Kurdistan region and neighboring countries.

Even with the security gains of the past several months across Iraq, it is still dangerous for doctors and their families if they dare step out of heavily guarded hospital compounds.

It's so bad that while there were reports, last year, of Iraqi doctors fleeing, of the Iraqi military we're supposedly building lacking medical care for its troops, and of Iraqi medical schools following Saddam's model bu forbidding Iraqi medical schools to issue diplomas, so new Iraqi doctors wouldn't be able to find work abroad. How horrible is it? As the L.A. Times article concludes:

There was another ominous development earlier this month, when the acting head of al-Rashad psychiatric hospital was arrested by the U.S. military in connection with the possible exploitation of mentally impaired women by al-Qaida in Iraq, presumably the suicide bombers who destroyed two pet markets in Baghdad and killed nearly 100 people.

The U.S. military wouldn't speculate on a motive but noted at the time of the arrest that al-Qaida often uses threats or extortion to get what it wants, which could possibly put the death of the former director, Dr. Ibrahim Mohammed Ajil, in a slightly different light.

He was gunned down on his way home from work in December.

Let's celebrate the truly good news from al-Sadr, but let's not forget what George W. Bush has made of Iraq: the definition of Hell.

Turkana :: 1:37 PM :: Comments (15) :: Digg It!