Dahr Jamail on Iraqi Hospitals Under Occupation, War Profiteering and the “Brain Drain” Out of Iraq

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As dozens of people are killed in suicide bombings and attacks in Iraq, we speak with independent journalist Dahr Jamail about his new report, “Iraqi Hospitals Ailing Under Occupation,” the “brain drain” out of Iraq and the difference in the media’s coverage of the repeated attacks in Iraq and last week’s London bombings. [includes rush transcript]

Millions of people across Europe are observing a two-minutes silence today to remember the victims of last week’s London bombings. At least 52 people were killed and 700 injured in the blasts.

But few people remember that just three days after the bombings last Thursday, a series of suicide attacks in Iraq left 48 people dead–an eerily similar death toll to London–and the difference in the world’s reaction was tangible. The Iraq attacks did not make it to the front-pages of newspapers across the globe, governments around the world did not universally condemn the attacks and the victims received few words of consolation.

Since last week, dozens more people have been killed in Iraq. Yesterday a massive car bombing in Baghdad killed 27 people–almost all of them children. An American soldier was also killed in the blast. Elsewhere in the capital, another dozen Sunni Muslims were found dead after being arrested by Iraqi police over the weekend.

Meanwhile a new study from an Iraqi humanitarian organization is estimating that 128,000 Iraqis have been killed since the U.S. invaded in March 2003–over half of them women and children. And Iraq’s Interior Ministry told The New York Times today that over 8,000 civilians have been killed in insurgent attacks between August and May.

  • Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist who spent many months in Iraq. He just returned from the World Tribunal on Iraq in Turkey. He also attended the Alternative G8 meeting in Scotland.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by independent journalist, Dahr Jamail, who spent many months in Iraq. He has just returned from the World Tribunal on Iraq in Turkey. He also attended the Alternative G8 meeting in Scotland. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

DAHR JAMAIL: Thanks, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: First, your response to the London bombings.

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, just like anyone else, it’s a horrific situation, where anytime civilians, innocent civilians, are killed as a result of the actions of their government abroad, which is exactly what this is, it’s a smaller scale 9/11 for Great Britain, where their government policy in Iraq specifically is most likely the cause of this blowback that occurs on their home soil where civilians are going to be killed, but just like anyone else, I condemn it. It’s a horrific situation and awful to see this sort of a thing where innocent civilians are paying the price for their government’s actions.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this comparison, the day after the attacks, looking at the tally, almost the same for the number of people counted that day killed in London and in Iraq, and yet the difference in the coverage?

DAHR JAMAIL: It’s astounding, but not surprising. At least the media is being consistent in their constant efforts to really not give the proper coverage to Iraq that it deserves. The situation in London, four bombings, four bombs, and so many civilians killed. That’s become almost an average day in Iraq. And yet, we look at the disparity of the coverage, which this incident is really telling in the disparity that’s ongoing with this, where so many civilians, every single day in Iraq, are being killed, the infrastructure in shambles, the country on fire. And where is the coverage? It’s becoming more and more difficult as time goes on to even find it.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, you did a report, “Iraqi Hospitals Ailing Under Occupation.” You presented it at the World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul. Talk about your findings.

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, in this report, I surveyed 13 different hospitals in Iraq, mostly in Baghdad, but some to the north and some to the south. And I presented this as evidence that at the World Tribunal. And it was the brunt of my testimony where, in summation, the report really showed that hospitals now, a little over two years into the occupation, are suffering far worse than they were even under the sanctions against Iraq. The most common quote that I heard from doctors when I was working on this report is that 'Our situation now is worse than it was even during the sanctions.' In sum, disastrous levels of medicine shortages, equipment shortages, supply shortages, and almost no reconstruction happening, and also another one of the major findings was what appears to be now a standard operating procedure in the military of a deliberate targeting of hospitals, ambulances, and medical workers.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a section of your report on U.S. military interfering with medical care.

DAHR JAMAIL: Right, and what I use as one of the major examples of that is the U.S. military operations, both sieges of Fallujah, that is, where — particularly the November siege, the first thing that the U.S. military did was go into Fallujah General Hospital and occupy it, place snipers on the roof and detain doctors, prevent them from carrying out their medical care, as well as the deliberate targeting of ambulances. And since that siege, in ongoing operations like in Al Qaim and in Hadithah, we have seen a almost exact repeat of that, where hospitals are sealed off, medical workers are prevented from working or being targeted themselves, and this has become clear that not only in Al Qaim and Hadithah, but it’s ongoing right now in Buhrez, which is right near Baquba; as we speak, this is ongoing, and any time there is a major operation now by the U.S. military in Iraq, this is the type of tactic that they’re using.

AMY GOODMAN: You spent a long time in Iraq. Did you talk to anyone in the U.S. military about this?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, phone calls to request information from them about what’s been happening regarding the hospitals usually — excuse me, usually result in the typical runaround of, 'Well, you need to contact this commander; we don't have information on this,’ or flat out denials like, 'No, the U.S. military engages in no such policy.' So it’s been very difficult to get any accurate information or certainly admittance from them that this is happening. Most of my information on this is gleaned from medical workers themselves who have been targeted, detained and threatened by the U.S. military.

AMY GOODMAN: Key to medical care, among other issues, is water. Water, electricity, what is the situation in Iraq?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, again, the fact that the infrastructure, particularly the water and electricity, has had disastrous effects on hospitals. Just to give you an idea of how this plays out, when we have on average of three hours of electricity per day in Baghdad, most of the hospitals are relying almost solely on generators, and there was one incident that I cited in the report, where in one of the larger hospitals in Baghdad, their generator broke down during the middle of day, and an operation was in progress so, of course, with a patient on the table, they were unable to run the instruments that they needed, and they lost the patient simply because of an electricity failure. And then, of course, with the water situation, almost as disastrous effects, as well, where without potable water, sterilization becomes next to impossible. So, we have rampant infections and inability for doctors to clean their instruments.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, Dahr Jamail, there’s been this discussion in this country, should U.S. troops withdraw? And what will happen in Iraq if they were to stay there; what else can the U.S. do? How often do you see issues raised of provide money for health care for the infrastructure, compared to how much money is now being spent on the military?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, exactly. It’s a grossly overlooked topic. The Ministry of Health was due to receive $1 billion of the reconstruction funds, and where has that money gone? Of course, corruption is rampant. But a larger question for the United States government is what has happened to the companies that were awarded the contracts for the rebuilding, such as A.B.T. and other companies, handed out the contracts from U.S.A.I.D. There’s almost no oversight going on. Where is the reconstruction that they have said they have completed? The hospitals have received basically paint jobs and sometimes new furniture, but as far as equipment and supplies that they have needed and medicines, it’s just not there.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about the subcontracts for all of this? You talked to the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. Amer Al Khuzaie?

DAHR JAMAIL: Right, and that’s exactly what he said was that he had — at the time that I interviewed him, had put in constant requests to the Coalition Provisional Authority for monies, millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars that they were asking for in order to get new supplies and give hospitals the equipment that they needed to get the work done, and he said that they had received next — basically only promises at that point, and since then, it appears as though that really no other assistance has come through, and any that has has been dissolved into the corrupt situation with looting still going on, and many people inside the Ministry of Health itself being responsible for this not happening. But really, primarily, we see tens of millions of dollars being funneled into these western companies, and I think the big question at the end of the day is why are they not doing the work; if they can’t do the work, why are they not giving these contracts to Iraqi companies?

AMY GOODMAN: Are there Iraqi companies, subcontractors, who could handle this?

DAHR JAMAIL: Without a doubt. This is another situation where, for example, after the 1991 Gulf War, where the infrastructure suffered so much damage, Iraq is more than capable itself of providing the people, as well as the knowledge and experience necessary to get the job done, and they’re simply not being allowed to. Of all of the contracts handed out in Iraq since the invasion, roughly 2% of the value of all of the money available for reconstruction have gone to Iraqi concerns, so it’s the same in the medical situation.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to independent journalist, Dahr Jamail. We’ll go to break. When we come back, I just want to ask you quickly about the brain drain in Iraq and also about Zarqawi.


AMY GOODMAN: We continue our conversation with independent journalist, Dahr Jamail. He has done a report, spent many months in Iraq, called “Iraqi Hospitals Ailing Under Occupation.” We know about the Geneva Conventions, supposed to protect prisoners, prisoners of war. You include sections of the Geneva Conventions relevant to health care and health rights. Can you talk about those?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, in summation, essentially, the Geneva Conventions that have been broken cover things regarding to the health sector like it’s the primary responsibility of the occupying powers to insure the safety of civilians, and these are broken repeatedly by — not just with civilians, but medical workers, as well. Again, not just not protecting them, but deliberately targeting medical workers, impeding them from doing their work. For example, at the lead of the report, I have a photograph of — which was shown actually in media all around the globe at the beginning of the siege of Fallujah of doctors literally inside a hospital being detained, being handcuffed, being prevented from doing their work. And this is a nice photograph of a violation of international law. So, this is one, as well as not assisting them in any way, shape or form when it’s obvious that the medical system needs the help.

AMY GOODMAN: Zarqawi. You have written about Zarqawi. You were in Jordan asking people about him. A top aide apparently, the U.S. reports, has been captured in Iraq.

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, when I was in Amman, I went to Al Zarqa, which is the city where Zarqawi is from. It’s close to Amman. And I interviewed people there, and I went and saw where his brother lives and brother-in-law lives and a couple of the different mosques where he used to pray. And really, the — it’s a difficult story to follow. What I found was that he definitely has existed as an individual, but there remains no definitive proof whatsoever that he’s still alive, and certainly none that has been made available by the U.S. military that this man is operating in Iraq. He remains a large nebulous myth, much like bin Laden.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the brain drain in Iraq?

DAHR JAMAIL: Again, this is a direct result of the bloody occupation, and we have so many Iraqi doctors who have been leaving the country because of the security situation and primarily because they have been targeted for kidnappings in order for the criminal gangs to extort ransom from their families. So there’s massive brain drain. This is another huge difficulty facing the hospitals in Iraq where there’s just simply not enough doctors.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, I want to thank you for joining us today. His report is, “Iraqi Hospitals Ailing Under Occupation.” If people want to get a copy of it, where can they go online?

DAHR JAMAIL: They can go to my website and download a copy there.

AMY GOODMAN: And that is?

DAHR JAMAIL: It’s DahrJamailIraq.com.

AMY GOODMAN: And if you have trouble remembering that, just go to our website at DemocracyNow.org.

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