| Doctors at the Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad. (AFP)
Baghdad, July 19 (Reuters): More than two dozen doctors walked out of one of Baghdad’s busiest hospitals today to protest what they said was abuse by Iraqi soldiers, leaving about 100 patients to fend for themselves in chaotic wards.
Physicians said the troubles started when soldiers barged into a woman’s wing at Yarmouk hospital, opened curtains and conducted searches as patients lay in their beds yesterday.
A 27-year-old internal medicine specialist said a soldier began intimidating and abusing him. “Before he left he said, 'Why are you looking in disapproval'’ Then he came and punched me lightly on my arm before sticking his rifle into my stomach and cocking it,” the doctor, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said.
“I stayed quiet but relatives of the patients told him to calm down before pulling him out of the room. Just then, four more soldiers came in and pointed a rifle at my head. At that point I became scared and begged them to leave me alone.”
Ministry of defence officials were not available for comment on the incident despite repeated requests.
Iraq’s mayhem has spread even to hospitals, which are overwhelmed by victims of suicide bombings and shootings whose blood is mopped up off the floor after every attack.
The new Shia-led government has promised Iraqis that security forces will be built up to protect them from guerrillas, who have killed thousands of people with suicide and car bombings.
Iraqis had hoped that January elections would deliver a new era of democracy, free of the abuses committed by Saddam Hussein’s security forces.
But some say the country’s new security forces are too aggressive, randomly rounding up suspects and abusing them during detentions. The government says security forces are under strict orders to respect human rights.
About 30 doctors staged the strike, leaving around 100 bewildered patients behind, including a boy of about 10.
Suffering from a gunshot wound to his leg, Muhammad Hashim lay quietly in the back of an ambulance which rushed him to Yarmouk from a town 30 km southwest of Baghdad. But the strike forced his angry father to take him to another hospital.
Yarmouk, a run-down, sparsely equipped building, has treated many of Baghdad’s worst cases. Overcrowded with patients and staff, its emergency room hosts a frenzy of activity every day. Nevertheless, doctors said they would press on with a strike to draw attention to army and security forces, whose wounded comrades are often treated at Yarmouk and other hospitals.
US-led forces, insurgents and criminal gangs have killed nearly 25,000 Iraqi civilians, police and army recruits since the war began in March 2003, according to a survey by a US-British non-government group.
Nearly half the deaths in the two years surveyed till March 2005 were in Baghdad, where a fifth of Iraq’s 25 million people live, according to media reports.