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Baghdad's el Sawardee hospital still open, `most efficient' in city

BAGHDAD—Some of the Iraqis seeking treatment had been attacked by robbers who turned against their countrymen. Some had been shot by U.S. soldiers worried about protecting themselves in a city wracked by riots. Some had sore throats.

But before any of Baghdad's injured and sick could see a doctor at el Sawardee Hospital, they had to get past a crowd at the entrance and several young men carrying semiautomatic rifles. The ad hoc security guards allowed inside only those they believed needed care.

El Sawardee is a small hospital, but one of the best still functioning in a city with sporadic electricity, little running water and hordes of looters.

Baghdad's major hospitals are closed or overwhelmed. Smaller facilities on the outskirts, like el Sawardee, located in Saddam City, are using generators to keep at least partially open.

Most hospital staff members refuse to come to work, forcing those who do to stay for long shifts. Some workers said they have not seen their families for two weeks because they are sleeping at the hospital.

Humanitarian groups, like the Iraqi Red Crescent, said they cannot help because their own staffs are afraid to report for work. Red Crescent worker Mohammed Abbas said the organization was meeting with the U.S. military Sunday to determine how the soldiers could protect medical personnel.

Some of the neighborhood residents approaching el Sawardee Hospital offered medicine, water and food. Hospital officials believed that some of these people were conscience-stricken looters.

The hospital's general director, Dr. Mowafah Gorea, said donations are not necessary. Gorea, who said he was one of the few hospital directors who didn't abandon his facility, counted 200 of his beds filled with patients, most of whom suffered gunshot wounds. He said he is conducting business as usual—almost.

"The only thing that changed here was the Saddam pictures. They are gone," Gorea said from his office. Behind him were the nails in the wall that used to hold Saddam Hussein's image.

Gorea said his hospital is the most efficient in Baghdad. He said this while standing over a dead man's body placed on a sidewalk while hospital officials decided what to do with it. The man, Ra'ad Mouhi, had been dead for two days, shot by Saddam's police force, hospital officials said.

Ordinarily, the body would have been placed in the hospital morgue. There has been adequate power to keep the morgue cold, but sometimes there is not enough space.

The hospital rooms are dingy but functional, with lights used only when needed, to save power.

With windows open, patients can hear gunfire from the streets.

Treatment comes from a mix of volunteers, relatives and hospital personnel. Who is who can be unclear, but they all work hand in hand.

Most of the injured were shot under similar circumstances: They were traveling along a road when they were caught in crossfire.

A doctor for the Malaysian Medical Relief Society was hurt that way. Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, shot in the buttocks, asked that doctors merely sew up the wound without removing the bullet. She said she would have it removed in Malaysia. She did not want the doctors of el Sawardee Hospital to waste time or equipment on her.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-HOSPITAL