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babylonsister Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-23-06 01:07 PM
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Fly on the wall: inside Baghdad ER,,1928827,00.html

Fly on the wall: inside Baghdad ER

It's potentially fatal for any western journalist to go out in Baghdad for more than 20 minutes these days. So how could anyone make a documentary about one of the city's toughest hospitals?

Ben Summers
Monday October 23, 2006
The Guardian

There is no bigger news story than the daily carnage in Baghdad, but for journalists and broadcasters there is nowhere more difficult to cover. It is reckless for a westerner to be seen on the streets. Militants intent on the kidnapping and killing of westerners are never far away. Every journalist knows it is irresponsible to stay in the same place for more than 20 minutes. As well as your own life, the lives of those around you would be put at risk.


Violence in Baghdad is so commonplace that few remain unaffected for more than a few days. People tend to be close to their extended families and neighbours. Soon after filming began, the doctor called me at my hotel to say that he was unable to travel that day because one of the drivers had to stay at home - his cousin and her two daughters had been caught in an explosion. One of the girls was dead. The other, with her mother, was badly burnt. A few days later it was the other driver's brother. He was kidnapped from a market. The driver had to go and look for him, and the next day he found him - in the morgue. Then the doctor himself had to take time off to go to the funeral of a friend's father, the old man had been kidnapped and his body was found two days later, dumped in the street with some rubbish.

These were random, sectarian incidents. Staff at the hospital were also concerned about so-called "targeted killings". Doctors have been targeted, but security personnel run the greatest risk. Soon after filming started the woman who searched people at the hospital gate was shot dead. And a couple of weeks later the hospital's head of security was killed. He was ambushed on his way home from work. The doctor could only film with the permission of the head of security, and as the job remained - not unexpectedly - vacant, filming stopped.

The American forces have their own well-equipped hospital and ambulance service. The Iraqi military use the civilian hospitals, which are already overstretched. They are the most nervous of being caught on film. For their safety, and his own, the doctor did not film them. But his mere presence, even with a camera in its bag, was enough to provoke them to insult him, to threaten him, and occasionally to confiscate his camera. Often, when there were soldiers in the ER, he was prevented even from entering.

Intimidatory tactics by the Iraqi armed forces are often extended to the medical staff. Doctors and support workers complained about harassment and physical abuse by servicemen. This would usually occur when they brought in a wounded comrade and demanded, at gunpoint, immediate treatment. Now the situation has degenerated so much that ER staff have recently gone on strike.

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