Video: Battle for Mosul overwhelms Iraqi hospitals

Safin Hamed, AFP | Iraqi children injured during the fighting in Mosul, receive medical treatment at a hospital in Erbil, capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, on November 24, 2016.

Hospitals in northern Iraq are struggling to cope with fallout from the battle for Mosul – and warning of a major crisis - with Iraqi troops engaged in close combat fighting with the Islamic State (IS) group to take control of the city.


The military campaign to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group control has ground to a crawl more than a month after it was launched, with Iraqi troops locked in close combat and guerilla warfare in neighbourhoods populated by civilians.

After the initial swift gains by US-backed Iraqi soldiers and militias on the outskirts of the city, the Mosul campaign has plunged into a bloody urban slog. With an estimated one million civilians still living in the city, the unbearable humanitarian toll is worsening by the day.

Officials from the Nineveh province, which includes Mosul, are warning of a major health crisis in the war-torn city.

Hundreds and thousands of residents in eastern Mosul are without water after fighting damaged the main pipeline bringing water from the western districts to the neighbourhoods on the eastern side of the Tigris River.

Harsh reality of daily life

For the residents of Mosul, casualties from the heavy fighting has turned into a daily occurrence. Hachim, a Mosul resident, arrived at the hospital in Erbil -- which is around 80 kilometers east of Mosul – with his younger brother.

Speaking to FRANCE 24, a resigned Hachim explained how he had no idea where the shell that hit his house came from. “If I knew I would tell you but I do not know. With mortars it's difficult. You do not know whether they come from one side or the other. People do not leave their homes anymore. Even if your neighbour is injured at the end of the street, you cannot save him because of the snipers,” he said.

A desperate father arrives at a hospital in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil with his severely wounded toddler, the victim of a mortar round the child is hovering between life and death.

Dressed in his Sunday best, the little boy lies passively, likely in shock, on a hospital bed with a bandage over his left eye as an American doctor volunteering in the emergency department examines him.

The diagnosis is not good.

“He was hit by a shell just over the left eye, it went through his eyebrow and into the front part of his brain. The problem is now we don't have a bed to put him in and place him on the ventilator, he needs emergency surgery,” explains Dr. Scott Irvine, who is volunteering with Millennium Relief and Development Service, a Texas-based NGO.

‘Even if he dies, it will be an honour’

IS group snipers are just one of the perils facing Iraqi soldiers engaged in close combat with jihadist fighters.

At the Erbil hospital’s respiratory unit, two-thirds of the patients are soldiers.

Jalal Hamid, an Iraqi soldier, has arrived at the hospital to visit his brother, also an Iraqi soldier, who has been in a coma for the past three weeks.

“In an exchange of fire with the IS group, a sniper’s bullet struck him in the head. Now he is here,” said Hamid, as he gently wipes his brother’s face with a tissue. “Even if he dies, it will be an honour for me, for our family and for the nation, because he fought for his country.”

Overwhelmed doctors

Erbil’s health services are doing their best to cope with the situation, but it is in no way easy.

“As you can see we do our best, but we only have a limited number of beds,” explained Hodai Tai, a medical assistant at Erbil’s Rojava Hospital. “We cannot accommodate everybody. All the hospitals are overwhelmed.”

Some patients, like a heartbreakingly young little girl, leave the hospital wrapped in a blanket during FRANCE 24’s visit. She arrived too late.

The hospital receives an average of 25 war casualties per day and that figure is expected to rise as the Iraqi army enters more densely populated neighbourhoods of Mosul.

For FRANCE 24's full report, please click on the player above

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