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Middle East

Psychiatric hospital in chaos amid claim that patients were raped by looters

Even on a good day, the Rashad psychiatric hospital in north-east Baghdad is a place of little joy. Patients shout and scream as they wander around in their nightclothes. There are wails at the sound of gunfire, and there are few doctors and little to eat or drink.

Last week, looters struck the hospital, stealing everything that was not tied down and attacking the patients. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) claims some of the patients were raped.

In the aftermath of the attacks, which took place between 9 and 11 April, most of the 1,050 patients at the hospital fled or escaped. Only about 350 have returned.

"They did attack the patients but there were no rapes," said Said Ashraf, a student who had been dispatched by Shia religious elders in Najaf to assist the hospital staff. "These people who came and attacked the hospital were uneducated. They were still loyal to the regime of Saddam Hussein. We are now trying to help these people. We are trying to find the people who escaped."

The Rashad hospital is home to patients with a range of problems, some of which they say are linked to the 1991 Gulf War. One patient, Hamida Abud, 40, said she had been afflicted withschizophrenia after witnessing her brothers kill their mother in 1991 over an argument about money, which she said was related to "the war of George Bush One".

Other patients desperately sought information about the current war, asking for the latest updates from the radio or newspapers.

Ms Abud said she was not aware that any of the patients had been sexually assaulted by the looters.

The ICRC has yet to give further information over its allegation of rape. Swiss television showed pictures this week of some of the patients who had returned, saying they had witnessed the sexual attacks. The ICRC's spokeswoman, Antonella Notari, said that despite the help that the Shia clerics were offering, conditions at the hospital were extremely serious because the looters had taken so much of its equipment.

The hospital did not have enough drinking water and was very dirty, Ms Notari said. A limited amount of food was available. The buildings would also need to be renovated, she added, because the wards, kitchens, workshops, laundries, warehouses and offices had been wrecked.