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Wounded Iraqi civilians praise U.S. caregivers
Virginian-Pilot (Hampton, VA) ^ | 20 April 2003 | MATTHEW DOLAN, embedded with Task Force Tarawa

Posted on 04/20/2003 2:55:24 PM PDT by COBOL2Java


A taxi driver from Samawa thought he had escaped his house full of Iraqi soldiers — only to see a bullet hit his son and a speeding car strike down his daughter.

A mother from Zubair let her son outside one calm morning after days of intense fighting — only to find that he got caught in rekindled crossfire.

A lawyer tried to reunite his extended family in Nasiriyah — but instead saw his brother die and his wife and sister each lose part of a leg when their bus was attacked on the way.

Even in the waning days of war, the innocents still suffer.

On this floating hospital in the northern Persian Gulf, more than 30 Iraqi civilians are receiving treatment for severe accidents and combat-related wounds alongside injured American troops and enemy prisoners of war.

Dressed in blue pajamas and flip-flops, the men, women and children convalesce in the ship’s windowless hospital wards, receiving little outside information.

They’ve had no contact with their families since arriving. Except for the caregivers, the crew on this converted tanker rarely sees them.

In private moments, they anguish over whether their families survived the war. And they wonder, too: Do those at home assume we’re dead?

Until late last week, they remained silent, cowed by fear of retaliation at home. Printed reports of Saddam Hussein’s downfall finally convinced the Iraqis it was safe to speak of their feelings.

Many pleaded to highlight the plight of the amputees among them. These wounded, including several women and children, have little hope of receiving expensive artificial limbs when they return to Iraq. Medical care in the war-torn nation has fallen from mediocre to abysmal.

The civilians hope their stories, though uncorroborated and told through a Navy interpreter, might attract help from the outside.

For the 1,200 sailors aboard, including about 20 from Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, the innocents also represent some hope at war’s end. Most of these wounded were initially suspicious of all Americans.

On their caregivers, the Iraqis — even those maimed by coalition forces — now heap praise.

But some, like Ammar Abid Lafta Hamad, a 26-year-old lawyer, cannot yet reconcile how the American military that killed his brother could also care so well for him and his other relatives.

"I am confused," he said. "I don’t know what to think."

Sami Jader Chaid Qatea, an Iraqi cab driver who often worked in Jordan, had just returned home when he heard someone in the garden.

He told his wife they had two options: If the intruders were Americans, she should find a translator among them and tell the troops they were civilians.

But if they were members of the Baath political party, Qatea would grab his gun and shoot at them.

"In Iraq," he explained, "you have the right to shoot at someone trying to come into your home."

But when he actually looked outside that night on April 7, he was able to do neither.

An Iraqi soldier pointed his gun at Qatea, forcing his way into the house. One soldier wanted food for his men; another wanted to use the toilet. In the meantime, his wife hid the gun.

When the first soldier left the room, Qatea and his wife locked the other in the toilet, then ran out with their children. The Americans and Iraqis were already fighting in the street when the family approached the U.S. forces.

Qatea’s son was shot. Then his daughter stumbled and fell. A Marine picked her up to move her to safety, but a passing car struck Sara and her American rescuer.

As medical personnel rushed to help, Qatea and his wife told the Americans about the Baath soldiers inside the house.

Immediately the Americans set their sights on Qatea’s house. The first missile took out the top level of the two-story home. The second demolished the entire structure.

"They came back and said everyone was dead inside," Qatea said.

The family was taken to an American field hospital in Samawa. Then Qatea and his daughter — more severely injured than his son with a gunshot wound in the foot — traveled to an American camp in Nasiriyah. They stayed for three days.

"They said we need to move to the hospital ship," he said.

But his daughter, Sara, 10, has not improved. She has been locked in a coma since coming aboard. Qatea has no idea what happened to his wife and the rest of his children.

Twice a day, he sits in vigil at Sara’s side in the intensive care unit.

Qatea, 32, appears to tune out the surrounding noise of bleeping monitors, quiet conversations between doctors and nurses, and the occasional wail of a patient in need.

He prays over her body, connected to machines by a network of wires and tubes. Breathing apparatus forces oxygen into her lungs. Her chest heaves heavily.

Qatea said he is encouraged by some progress. Sara has opened her eyes briefly and moved the right side of her body.

The hospital staff initially told him he could leave in a week, he said. But a week has already passed.

His praise for the Comfort’s medical staff is effusive. His family shattered by the war and his home destroyed, Qatea said he still believes the conflict was necessary.

"It was the right thing to do to free the Iraqi people and get rid of the Iraqi regime," he said. "But I am worried now. I left my kids. I am the supporting person of the family.

"I lost everything. And I left my family."

Hayat Lateaf Mohamad wears a bemused and anxious expression when she looks at her son.

Qassem Sagbam Markeq, 13, works a roomful of sailors with the ease of a Vegas lounge singer. His nickname on this ship is Elvis for his coifed hairdo.

But Mohamad knows her plucky son is lucky. He owes his life to these people.

It was more than a month ago when Mohamad noticed that the fighting had finally ceased. Her town of Zubair seemed quiet for the first time in days, and Qassem was itching to go outside.

She relented. Qassem walked to his uncle’s home. There, a group decided to check out the battlefield.

But when they arrived, it was no longer quiet. The boy, pinned between Iraqi and coalition forces, was shot in the abdomen.

Mohamad took Qassem to an Iraqi hospital. The bullet had pierced his stomach and liver. But the next day, the staff told her Qassem was fine.

She knew they were wrong.

"I thought he was going to die," Mohamad said.

A neighbor suggested seeking help from the Americans. When they reached a checkpoint between Safwan and Basra, she pleaded her case, and the coalition forces took her son in.

They went to a hospital in Umm Qasr. "He was yellow in his cheeks," she said. "His flesh went pink."

They flew to a British hospital ship and then to the Comfort. Along the way, surgeons for the coalition made an amazing discovery: The Iraqi medical personnel had left a bullet in his body. The doctors removed it immediately.

"Now look at him," she said. "He is healthy? Yes."

Now the road home is more difficult. They have been here almost a month. They expect to leave any time. But Mohamad still fears Saddam. "We have been bleeding blood our whole lives," she said of her country’s rule under the deposed leader. "It was the Iraqis’ wish to get rid of the regime." Then Qassem piped in: "If I was in Iraq, he would pay."

Among the Iraqi civilians on the Comfort, Ammar Abid Lafta Hamad carries heft. He is a lawyer by training and a farmer by choice. Unlike many, he speaks a little English. And his story is among the most horrific.

There are 17 members of Hamad’s family, some in Nasiriyah and the rest in Karbala. In late March, coalition forces drew near, blowing up several oil tankers placed near Karbala by Iraqi forces.

TOPICS: Front Page News; News/Current Events; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: civiliancasualties; embeddedreport; hospital; iraqifreedom; taskforcetarawa; ushscomfort; usnscomfort; waronterror
Also see these stories:
1 posted on 04/20/2003 2:55:25 PM PDT by COBOL2Java
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To: COBOL2Java
good read
2 posted on 04/20/2003 7:01:20 PM PDT by chasio649
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To: chasio649
So great to hear about the good side of this whole scene.
We KNOW our guys are the greatest, but it's nice to hear about it for a change.
3 posted on 04/20/2003 7:42:03 PM PDT by MIgramma (FEAR= False Evidence Alleged Real)
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To: MIgramma
I know, wish we hear more of these stories in the news.

Gee, wonder why? < /sarcasm off>

4 posted on 04/21/2003 6:00:48 AM PDT by COBOL2Java
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