At Least 30 Dead in Bombing Outside Hospital
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
On US military bases in Iraq today, American troops enjoyed a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, and US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad told them they were doing important work.
Ambassador ZALMAY KHALILZAD (US): Being away from your families, your friends, being away on a day like this--Thanksgiving--where we usually are with our friends and family is a huge sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice for a good cause.
NORRIS: That's Ambassador Khalilzad speaking to troops in Baghdad.
The day in Iraq was also marked by more car bombs and assassinations. In one incident a suicide car bomb killed 30 people outside a hospital some 20 miles south of Baghdad. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Baghdad. He says at least three more people died further south in the town of Hillah when a car bomb exploded there.
PETER KENYON reporting:
It looks like the Hillah car bombing could have been much worse than it was. Of course, that's cold comfort to the families of the dead and wounded there. Hillah is known as the scene of the single worst insurgent attack, 125 people killed there in a bombing back in February. But the deadliest attack of the day came as it often does in the form of a suicide car bombing. That happened in Mahmoudiya about 20 miles south of Baghdad, an area known as the triangle of death because of all of the attacks that have occurred there in the past two years. Iraqi officials say there was an Iraqi police patrol in the area and there were also US military vehicles parked in front of the Ham al-Moudia Hospital(ph). Whatever the reason, that's where the bomber set off his explosives. Most of the fatalities are reported to be Iraqi civilians, some of them family members visiting patients at the hospital.
NORRIS: What's the condition like in Iraqi hospitals now more than two and a half years after the fall of Saddam Hussein?
KENYON: Well, it's extremely variable, of course, but according to Iraqi medical workers and other officials, they can be very grim. Access to supplies can be dismal. Doctors have been the victims of assassinations for roughly two years now, meaning many have been killed and even more have fled the country or dropped out of the profession for fear of their lives. The staffs at these hospitals are so low that family members routinely visit, not just to provide moral support but to bring basics such as food, medicine, other essentials. So that's the level of readiness, and then you add to that the stress of huge numbers of casualties, which can happen at the drop of a hat, of course, here with these car bombings or, in some cases, casualties from the US and Iraqi military operations. Then you begin to get some idea of the state of medical care here.
By way of anecdotal evidence, I might add that the US military, as one of its humanitarian efforts here, sometimes hold free medical clinics in Iraqi neighborhoods. The response is usually enormous, huge lines, in part because it's free, of course. But also because Iraqis believe these military medics have far better supplies than they might get at their local hospitals.
NORRIS: And it sounds like that's probably true.
KENYON: It certainly seems that from all evidence, yes. It's a very difficult situation and those soldiers who were in there today were told by the US military to assess this particular hospital for a possible upgrade in the future, so there is an incremental effort. It's slow and painstaking to try and upgrade these facilities. But it will take some time.
NORRIS: Peter, today's violence was also marked by more political attacks. Please tell us about that.
KENYON: Well, there's less than three weeks to go now till parliamentary elections, and today a political adviser to former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was gunned down in south Baghdad. There were other shootings as well, most of them targeting Iraqi policemen. One lieutenant colonel and his son were both gunned down in south Baghdad, and his second son was wounded but survived.
NORRIS: NPR's Peter Kenyon speaking to us from Baghdad. Peter, thank you so much.
KENYON: You're welcome, Michele.