'They came with guns and took everything'

Kim Sengupta reports from a Baghdad hospital where armed looters stole light fittings, stethoscopes and even the beds that the patients were lying in

The al-Kindi hospital was deserted yesterday morning apart from a few members of the medical staff who had braved a visit after staying away for the last few days. They walked through the wards where the beds and stretchers had been ransacked by looters, and medicine cabinets stripped bare.

It was the same scene at most of the other hospitals and clinics throughout Baghdad. In another day of murderous violence, with US forces treating much of the city as a free-fire zone, and Iraqis settling scores among themselves, the casualties mounted as the medical resources continued to wither away.

The al-Kindi is the premier neurological hospital in the Iraqi capital, with 400 beds. In the days of remorseless American bombing and the subsequent ground advance it overflowed with the dead and the maimed.

As the US forces completed their capture of Baghdad, and peace and harmony was supposed to break out among the grateful locals, the anarchy began. While Marines stood by and watched, the mob descended, first on the offices and homes of the regime, then on shops and hotels, and then on the hospitals.

Médecins Sans Frontières, the medical aid agency, had made donations of medicine and equipment to al-Kindi. All that has now gone. Standing in an operating theatre from where the beds, equipment and even the light fittings had been stripped, Ahmed Ali Hassan, 39, a laboratory technician, said: "They came with guns, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop them. There were a few leaders who directed the taking of the most expensive equipment, I think they were Shias, maybe from Saddam City. Then the ordinary people came and took the rest. I saw an old man walk away with three sets of stethoscopes."

Dr Ahmed Asafi, a 27-year-old paediatrician, had come in yesterday morning after hearing that the looters and gunmen had gone. "There is not a lot left to take," he said. "Patients from this hospital have been sent to other ones, and the less serious cases sent home with prescriptions. We are lacking almost every kind of medicine."

As he spoke, a US armoured vehicle rolled up outside, and three Marines came in. A centre had been set up at the Ministry of Oil building to co-ordinate relief efforts.

"We are here to instil confidence, and make sure that any problem gets dealt with," said Sergeant Tylon Wilder from California. "Yessir, that is what we are here to do, to see what the problem is."

Watching him, one doctor whispered: "I will tell you what the problem is – the Americans came and smashed up our country. We have been dealing with what they had done for the last few weeks – the women and children bombed, people shot at road checkpoints for no reason, maybe for fun."

The antenatal wing of the Yamoukh hospital was hit during the bombing. The looters had been here as well, and taken everything from incubators to generators. "Most of the staff are still too afraid to come back," said Amira al-Nasr, a nurse. "It is strange that this hospital kept operating during the bombing, and the problem began after the Americans took over the city."

Saddam General in Saddam City, the worst-equipped hospital in the most violent and, in the present situation, most inaccessible slum in Baghdad, has been receiving most of the transferred patients. Among them, from al-Kindi, is Ali Ismail Abbas, the 12-year-old victim of a US missile attack who had to have both his arms amputated and who has been the subject of much British media attention.

Saddam General was about to be looted on Thursday when US tanks arrived. They are now parked outside, and the danger from the mob has abated. But Dr Moufak Gabriel, the director, pointed out the hospital has 300 beds and has been receiving 200 patients a day.

"We are coping for the time being because we have to," he said. "But this cannot go on. The Americans must help open the other hospitals or make sure we get supplies. Otherwise I do not know what is going to happen."

Mustafa al-Rashid and his wife Samia arrived with their daughter, who had fallen and broken a hand. On the way, they claimed, they had been shot at by an American patrol, and then robbed of 30,000 dinars (about $30) at a Shia checkpoint. "Welcome to Baghdad after liberation, welcome," said Mr al-Rashid.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015