Fallujah: U.S. Declares War on Hospitals, Ambulances


Richard Moore

From: "Eric Stewart" 
Subject: In Fallujah, U.S. Declares War on Hospitals, Ambulances
Date:  11/11/2004


Friday, November 12

News Report

In Fallujah, U.S. Declares War on Hospitals, Ambulances
by Brian Dominick ( bio )

US troops appear to be including the restriction of civilian
health care services as a primary objective in the current
assault on Fallujah, including the bombing and seizure of
clinics and confiscation of ambulances.

Nov 9 - In a series of actions over the weekend, the United
States military and Iraqi government destroyed a civilian
hospital in a massive air raid, captured the main hospital and
prohibited the use of ambulances in the besieged city of

Saturday morning, witnesses in Fallujah reported that an
overnight air strike by US fighter crews had completely razed
a trauma clinic, which was recently constructed using Saudi
donations. Also destroyed were two adjacent facilities used by
health care providers.

A Reuters photograph of the devastation shows only a sign that
reads "Nazzal Emergency Hospital" still standing. There have
been mixed reports of injuries and deaths resulting from the

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has ordered that everyone
except Iraqi and US troops observe a strict curfew in Fallujah
and nearby Ramadi, though it is unclear how well the directive
has been conveyed to residents, or if an exemption has been
made for medical personnel, in accordance with international
law. It is also unclear how noncombatants will be able to
observe a strict curfew when much of the city's running water
and electricity has been cut off, according to several
witnesses including Fadhil Badrani, a Fallujah resident who is
issuing regular reports to the BBC.

On Sunday, Marines said they would use the curfew to their
tactical advantage, effectively designating any and all moving
civilian vehicles to be free-fire targets. Normally, US troops
are expected to establish that a target is hostile before
engaging. But Colonel Mike Ramos told National Public Radio
that US Marines have been relieved of meeting that

Saying invasion forces will order all vehicles off the streets
of Fallujah for the duration of their offensive, Col. Ramos
added, "If a Marine feels that it is necessary, to protect the
lives of his fellow Marines, he is empowered to engage a
moving vehicle; he's empowered to destroy whatever needs to be

In contrast, standard rules of engagement, which were written
based on international law, dictate that troops determine a
target is actually a threat, but make no mention of how the
soldier feels.

Addressing reporters on Monday, US Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld said he expects minimal civilian casualties, and
insisted US troops have been issued "rules of engagement that
are appropriate to an urban environment."

In a May interview with The NewStandard a US Marine Corps
spokesperson refused to explain specific incidents of US
Marines attacking Iraqi emergency vehicles, but said any
ambulances that Marines fired on must have been involved in
carrying insurgents or arms, or else the Marines would not
have opened fire.

US and Iraqi officials have not indicated whether ambulances
will be allowed to move freely through the city, but during
the siege of the city in April, US troops fired on Iraqi
ambulances on a number of occasions. At least two were
completely demolished prior to the current assault; one by
Marines in April and another in a September air strike. A
Fallujah General Hospital official told Arab News and other
agencies that a driver, a medic and five patients died in the
latter incident. Photographs reinforced those claims.

General Hospital Seized

Early Monday morning, Iraqi commandos stormed and seized the
Fallujah General Hospital, the city's main health care
facility, in the first reported ground operation carried out
against the city during the renewed offensive. During the raid
they reportedly detained some 50 patients, about 25 of whom
were arrested.

This is the second time Marines have sealed off the hospital.
Fallujah General is located on the Western edge of the
Eurphrates River, separating it from the rest of the city.
Throughout the siege in April, Marines prevented ambulances
and other vehicles from transporting sick or injured people to
what was at that time -- and after Saturday night's bombing is
once again -- the city's only trauma-capable health care

Today, Dr. Salih Al-Issawi, the director of Fallujah General,
told the South African Press Association that US Marines were
again preventing ambulances from delivering patients to
emergency care. Al-Issawi said that he believes the US
military "thought that they would halt medical assistance to
the resistance" by taking his hospital. "But," said Al-Issawi,
"they did not realize that the hospital does not belong to
anybody, especially the resistance."

The Fourth Geneva Convention plainly states, "Civilian
hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the
infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the
object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and
protected by the Parties to the conflict."

Dr. Al-Issawi told Agence France-Presse that Marines would not
let him or other hospital staff move to another facility
inside Fallujah in order to be of actual help to the people of
the city.

Of the estimated 30,000 to 100,000 who remain in Fallujah
after most of its 280,000-strong population left during
October in an exodus of terror, many are presumed to be
infirmed, impoverished, or otherwise unable to escape the
offensive. The entire city must now rely on two or three small
clinics, if they can reach care at all, to provide for the
sick and wounded.

Another physician, Dr. Hashem Issawi, who works at a clinic
inside Fallujah, reported that a lack of water, electricity
and ambulances has made providing emergency care all but
impossible, according to AFP. Dr. Issawi reported that his
clinic's ambulance was destroyed during air strikes on Sunday.
"Ambulances have also been confiscated," he said. "We lack
material and equipment."

Another doctor at Fallujah General, Sami Al-Jumaili, told
Reuters: "There is not a single surgeon in Fallujah. We had
one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor wounded.

"There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we
can't move," Al-Jumaili continued. "A 13-year-old child just
died in my hands."

The US military has not stated if it intends to destroy or
capture any remaining health care facilities.

The Pentagon has made little attempt to explain its repeated
attacks on medical personnel and infrastructure. Nevertheless,
numerous reporters embedded with the Marines have been told
that Fallujah General Hospital was seized to enable care
providers to do their jobs unimpeded and to prevent hospital
officials from providing inflated death counts to the media as
the offensive is underway.

During the April fighting, hospital officials periodically
informed the press that US Marines were killing massive
numbers of civilians, who were then being counted by local
clinics and the hospital. The United States government and
media blamed those reports -- which were never shown to be
inaccurate but have in fact been upheld by independent
analysts -- as contributing to the widespread unrest that
erupted across Iraq during the siege.

The Fourth Geneva Convention offers no provision permitting
the seizure of health care facilities in order to prevent
hospital officials from releasing statements -- whether true
or false -- to the public.

In fact, the only relevant article states, "The Occupying
Power may requisition civilian hospitals only temporarily and
only in cases of urgent necessity for the care of military
wounded and sick, and then on condition that suitable
arrangements are made in due time for the care and treatment
of the patients and for the needs of the civilian population
for hospital accommodation."

Since the US military has established its own rear-area
medical facilities, and since the seizure of Fallujah General
marked the first objective of the ground invasion, it is
unlikely that the criteria of "urgent necessity for the care
of military wounded" has been met.

Additionally, The NewStandard has so far been unable to find
reports that rebels or terrorists have inhibited the provision
of health care to those in need at Fallujah General. The only
reports of such obstruction cite constraints placed on the
facility by US personnel.

© 2004 The NewStandard . See our reprint policy .

Online sources used in this news report:
BBC: "US strikes raze Falluja hospital"  
BBC: "Eyewitness in Fallujah"  
National Public Radio: "Marines Await Call to Attack Fallujah"  
Mail and Guardian (South Africa): "Troops Storm Fallujah"  
The NewStandard [previous]: "Fallujah Doctors Report U.S. 
Forces Obstructed Medical Care in April"  
Herald Sun (Australia): "Rumsfeld plays down civilian risk"  
Agence France Presse: "US looking to Allawi to avoid repeat of 
last aborted Fallujah offensive"  
Arab News: "20 Iraqis Killed, 29 Injured, in US Air Attack on Falluja"  
Agence France-Presse: "US and Iraqi forces penetrate Iraq's Fallujah, 
seize hospital, bridges"  
Reuters: "Fallujah Residents Say Clinic Bombed"  
Iraq Body Count: "IBC Fallujah Archive"  
UNHCR: "Fourth Geneva Convention"  


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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland

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