Care for Collateral Damage

July 9, 2011 § 8 Comments

Over the last two and a half weeks, my host Sami and I have visited a number of medical facilities in Iraq: the public hospital in Najaf, a prosthetics and orthotics center, and the public hospital in Nasriyyah. All confirmed the disastrous human cost of the Iraq War.

Since 2003, at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the U.S.-led war. Some estimates put the number at over 1 million. Iraq’s “health has deteriorated to a level not seen since the 1950s,” seventy percent of children suffer from trauma-related symptoms, and there are perhaps five million orphans in Iraq–almost half of the country’s children.

During my first week in Najaf, Sami and I visited As-Sadr Hospital, the public hospital in Najaf. A number of doctors at the hospital will travel to Minneapolis this fall as part of the Sister City relationship between the two cities. Sami’s brother-in-law, Dr. Amer Majeed, met us at the hospital x-ray room.

The hospital was crowded. It is one of 18 hospitals that Saddam built across the country–one in each of Iraq’s 18 provinces. After 2003 it was renamed from “Saddam Hussein Hospital” to “As-Sadr Hospital.” Like all public hospitals in Iraq, treatment at the hospital is free. The hallways were lined with people sitting against the walls and waiting.

Dr. Majeed showed us the x-ray and ultrasound equipment and led us through the cancer center to a prosthetics and orthotics center. Last fall Sami’s organization (the Muslim Peacemaker Teams) and the organization I work for (the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project) brought an Iraqi woman from Najaf to Minneapolis to receive new prostheses and physical therapy. Zainab Jawhar lost her left leg and right foot to an American missile in 2004–she is among the war’s “collateral damage.” Before coming to Minneapolis she had received several unsuccessful prostheses in Iraq and Iran.

The president of the center, Samir Eidan, greeted us in his office. We took a few photos with him and then a doctor, Jalaal Ali, asked us to follow him for a tour.

Dr. Ali explained and demonstrated the process of making a new prosthesis for a patient. He said many of their machines are out of date and they are constantly in need of more raw materials used to make the prostheses. Most of the machines and supplies were donated by either the Red Cross or Otto Bock (a German company).

The center clearly provides a critical service to the large number of Iraqis who have lost limbs since 2003. As of 2008, an estimated 80,000 Iraqi civilians had lost limbs as a direct result of the Iraq War. Seeing the process of making prosthetic limbs reinforced the tragedy of the American-led war, especially for those caught in the crossfire.

A week and a half later, we drove to Nasriyyah to meet with two organizations partnering to provide heart surgeries to Iraqi children. We left Najaf on Thursday, July 7 around 10 am in a taxi we shared with two young Iraqi men, and arrived at Hussein hospital in Nasriyyah about 4 hours later. Cody Fisher, an American from California, met us on the second floor and introduced us to his colleagues from the Preemptive Love Coalition (PLC) and the International Children’s Heart Fund (ICHF). PLC and ICHF were in Nasriyyah for about 2 weeks to perform about 16 heart surgeries.

Besides Cody, there were a few other Americans and a number of doctors from around the world. Based in Suleymaniyyah, a city in northern Iraq, the two organizations occasionally conduct 2-week surgery trips to Nasriyyah. They work closely with the Iraqi government, which provides housing and security and helps them reach hospitals and cities that would otherwise be unavailable.

Cody told us about the important and inspiring work of PLC and ICHF and we talked about how our organizations could work together. Their medical mission trips provide life-saving heart surgeries and are funded, in part, by Americans. We talked about how this is a gesture of peace, friendship, and reconciliation.

I asked Cody about why so many Iraqi children need heart surgery (in Fallujah, for example, perhaps 15% of children are born with congenital heart disease). Cody said they are working with other international and Iraqi organizations to answer that question conclusively, but one obvious answer is Depleted Uranium (DU), which a number of studies have linked to an increase in birth defects. According to an article in The Guardian, between 1,000 and 2,000 tons of DU munitions were used by coalition forces during one three week period in Iraq in 2003.

That evening our taxi driver took us to Basra, where we spent the night and the following day before returning to Najaf.

Several times after the English class that I help teach, a young student, Amir, has brought a list of questions for me from his friends. Why am I here? What do I think about what my country has done to Iraq? What will I tell Americans when I return home? I answered that I am here to teach English classes because I believe respectful relationships are possible, that I feel sad and sorry for what my country has done to theirs, and that I will tell Americans about many things: the warm welcome I received, the Iraqi people’s hope for peace and an end to the occupation, and the “collateral damage” left behind by the war.

Iraqis have a strong will to rebuild their country, and organizations like PLC and ICHF are providing critical support. But it’s going to take a long time. Eight years of “collateral damage” is going to take generations to repair.

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§ 8 Responses to Care for Collateral Damage

  • Joan says:

    Thank you, Luke, for reminding me how important the work of IARP is; for speaking so clearly and honestly “the list of questions.”

    With gratitude,
    Joan Haan

  • […] you might think we are very well-informed about the nature of our world.  Yet, I have found this under-reported stat quite sobering; Since 2003, at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the U.S.-led […]

  • lwilcox101 says:

    Thank you, Joan, I’m looking forward to talking with you and others at the retreat. It’s been an amazing experience here in Najaf.

  • 2oldstroke says:

    It’s under reported because it’s more like 15,000 civilians dead (per the UN). And of course any of those deaths are terrible but I detest propaganda because what we need is truth and clarity.

  • Barbara Boehme says:

    Thank you very much for the reports. I do have a request. Someone mentioned to me recently that although he was against the war he thought the people were better off financially now and that their lives were better. I had learned that Iraq under Saddam had a healthy economy and the people were able to live good lives except that Saddam was a dictator. The women had more freedom than other near-east nations. Please address this concern if you have a chance.

    • lwilcox101 says:

      Thank you, Barbara. First I would say that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died due to the war–it’s not a question of whether their lives are better or not. Second, Iraq’s economy has been shattered by the war–generally, people are not better off financially, at least yet. The government, put in place by the Americans, remains very weak. There is little oversight and corruption is rampant–Iraq now competes with Somalia and Afghanistan for the most corrupt country in the world. Because of the weak government and corruption, Iraqis don’t have good access to clean water, and electricity comes and goes. There’s little street-cleaning services and trash is everywhere. Generally the level of basic services has gone way down after 2003. There’s still a lot of violence in Iraq and there are still 1-2 million Iraqis living as refugees in neighboring countries, unable to return because they fear for their safety in Iraq. For the average Iraqi, there’s no way life is better than before 2003. Most Iraqis I talk to here appreciate that Saddam is gone and appreciate having more political freedom, but they’re also very skeptical about the current government and the huge problem of corruption.

      Yes, you’re right about women having more freedom under Saddam than other countries in the region – Saddam was pretty secular. Since 2003 Iraq has become a much more conservative place religiously and many women who did not wear the veil or hibaya prior to 2003 have started wearing it for safety reasons.

      The Iraqis I’ve talked to have mixed feelings – Saddam was a terrible dictator, but there’s been so much death and destruction after 2003 and the quality of life has, for most Iraqis, gone way down.

      Thanks for the question, my response is just based on what I’ve heard talking to Iraqis here and what I’ve read in the past. Best wishes.

  • lwilcox101 says:

    @2oldstroke, thank you for your comment. Could you provide a link to the UN report that says 15,000 Iraqis died due to the Iraq War? Here’s a UN report that says 34,452 died in 2006 alone (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/17/world/middleeast/17iraq.html).

    Other credible reports from independent sources include:

    Iraq Family Health Survey for the World Health Organization, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, estimated estimated 151,000 deaths of Iraqi civilians due to violence from March 2003 through June 2006. (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2008/pr02/en/index.html)

    The Lancet, one of the oldest medical science journals in the world, published two peer-reviewed studies on the effect of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation on the Iraqi mortality rate. The second estimated 654,965 excess deaths related to the war through the end of 2006 (http://web.mit.edu/CIS/pdf/Human_Cost_of_War.pdf).

    The Opinion Research Business Poll, conducted in 2007, estimated 1,033,000 violent Iraqi deaths due to the Iraq War (http://www.opinion.co.uk/Newsroom_details.aspx?NewsId=78).

  • […] This story should give us much to pray about. Its written by a man who is spending a month living with a Muslim peacemaking team in Iraq. Whatever you believe about the war in Iraq, its legitimacy, etc – this is tragic, and should inform our prayers. Here’s an excerpt: Since 2003, at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the U.S.-led war. Some estimates put the number at over 1 million. Iraq’s “health has deteriorated to a level not seen since the 1950s,” seventy percent of children suffer from trauma-related symptoms, and there are perhaps five million orphans in Iraq–almost half of the country’s children. […]

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