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Friday, December 9, 2016
Iraq: exclusive report by Carlos Reyes-Manzo - part two
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The award-winning photographer and journalist Carlos Reyes-Manzo visited Iraq with a Caritas delegation last October.

In May he returned to the country. This is the second of his exclusive three-part series for ICN. Part Two. The Children of Baghdad On Sunday morning in the treeless square next to the bomb shelter two girls emerge from the burning piles of rubbish, hoping to find something in this absolute burning poverty. As we drive slowly through the market more women and children are looking through mountains of rubbish.

This used to be the market of New Baghdad, now it has been transformed into a market for looted goods selling kalashnikovs wrapped in cloth, computers with identification marks from the University of Baghdad, tyres new and old, coffee makers, pacemakers, doctors' white coats, piles of medicines cooking under the sun, airconditioning units just off the walls with wires sticking out, even rows of pink seats from the National Theatre. We join the traffic chaos to reach the centre of Baghdad, in one way streets cars suddenly appear in front of us at high speed, at crossroads drivers insult each other and if you don't give way they threaten you with a gun.

Bradleys and convoys of US patrols drive past indifferent to the mayhem. In the last few days traffic policemen have started appearing on street corners but no-one is taking any notice. In Fateh Square near the Petra Hotel a girl is shivering in the sun outside the main entrance of a ministry, soon after the entire family comes out to look, the building has been taken over by displaced families from poor areas. The girl walks to a tap in the pavement to collect water in a plastic container. Just opposite, the entrance of the looted National Theatre is blocked with breeze blocks, people peer through the broken windows and blowing curtains. In Firdos Square I see two boys, not much older than ten, sniffing glue from plastic bags stuck to their faces while dodging the cars rushing past the roundabout.

I return to the Palestine Hotel looking for a broadcast journalist, but she is on her way to Amman. In the busy lobby a man approaches me and asks if I am a journalist in need of an interpreter. 'I have same friends if you need company, all have been checked by the US medical corps so they are okay. If you prefer very young friends we can negotiate.' The expression on my face tells him that it is better for him to go away. I hear a commotion, a demonstration is taking place in the grounds of the hotel, people are protesting because they have no work and no money to buy food for their families. Barbed wire keeps the demonstrators at a distance from the US soldiers. We arrive at El Al Wia Children's Hospital after midday and go to the emergency room where mothers and children are sitting on beds, chairs or just standing, looking and waiting. I am struck by the sadness of their expressions. One of the mothers starts screaming for help, her child is very ill, they take her to a small emergency room where two nurses tell the mother the baby has died but they do everything to try and revive her. The mother starts pulling her hair out in desperation. The father insists that their child is not dead so they take her to a bed where they place an oxygen mask over her face, soon after a doctor arrives who confirms that she has died. The father takes the child in his arms and looks directly into my face and shouts, 'Your Bush is finishing what Saddam started.' The father wraps the child tenderly in a cloth and the family leaves the emergency room. I saw another baby who had just died, the mother and grandmother wrapped the baby in a cloth and quietly left. No records are being kept of the number of children dying each day. The doctors tell me that four days ago they ran out of oxygen and were forced to send children to other hospitals, some had died on the way. On the first floor the room is divided into four by curtains with four beds in each section, this floor is for people who can afford to pay. There is one child on each bed surrounded by members of the family. Most of them have serious illnesses such as leukaemia, heart problems, meningitis, also diarrhoea and undiagnosed illnesses. On the second floor the situation is completely different. Each room has about twelve beds with one or two or even three children on each bed with their mothers and families around them. The conditions are appalling, and children with different contagious diseases are lying next to each other on plastic mattresses without sheets.

Two doctors join me and show me the toilets for patients which are completely blocked and have been in this state for weeks, the heat and smell attracting clouds of flies. Next to the toilet is the room where doctors rest in between shifts. At midday family members bring some food for the mothers and children, they spread a tablecloth on the floor and share the food with their families and with the mothers who are alone. Mothers were telling me their stories. One mother had already lost two children and she was in the hospital with her third who was in a critical condition. Another mother with a child suffering from black fever told me she had a twelve year old daughter at home who had suffered serious burns from scalding water and her arms had stuck to her body. She wanted to take her abroad to be operated on to give her the chance of living a normal life. I went to see Hala Karim Saal, the pharmacist working in the pharmacology department, and she explained that there were no medicines left in the hospital and could I do something to help.

She gave me a list of medicines they need desperately, 20,000 units of Pentostam, Indiral ampoules, Panatol ampoules, Lominal ampoules, Tagamate ampoules, 6mp Tablets Chemotherapy', +6 Mercuptopurine, 6TG Thioguanine, Factor 8, Microdrip and general chemo items for cancer. With this list I went to talk to the US officer in charge of security at the hospital, Lt Timothy T Wyant, PL, 1st Plt, A Co, who wrote a note in my notebook confirming that I was a certified journalist and told me to speak to Captain Boone at the Civil Affairs office based in Saddam's former Presidential Palace. At the Civil Affairs office I explained that I wanted to see Captain Boone to inform him of the desperate situation at the Children's Hospital but the officer in charge refused to allow me to see him. He told me they knew some children were dying but that it was not yet amber. When I asked him how many children needed to die before it was considered amber, he asked me to leave. Sabine Wartha, Head of Emergency Department of Caritas Austria who visited the hospital was shocked by what she saw, 'When we entered the Children's Hospital El Al Wia in Baghdad, we were surrounded by parents, desperate parents who asked us to help their children.

Wherever we looked, we saw babies, small children, children who were lying unconscious in bed without sheets, without proper treatment as there are no drugs or parents cannot afford the treatment. We are shocked, we feel horror knowing that by the end of our mission in three days some of those little babies will not have survived.' 'I have done lots of missions in my life and have seen so much misery in different countries around the world, but I have never seen such a dramatic situation before,' states Dr Wolfgang Aichelburg, the medical advisor for Caritas Austria. The following day I returned to the hospital with Guy Bovey from UMCOR. One of the doctors told us that they were passing through a crisis, there was an alarming rise in cases of black fever (leishmaniasis) which causes distension of the liver, fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and eventually death. 'It used to be a rural disease but has now spread to Baghdad,' Hala Karim Saal told us.

The hospital has not been able to secure, not even on the black market, supplies of Pentostam which, when administered for twenty one days, cure the illness. The doctors decided to distribute the final doses equally among the children, only three doses per child were left, and sent them home hoping that more supplies would arrive soon. Medical staff explained that they had seen hundreds of cases in the last two weeks. Doctors couldn't say how many had died, some parents seeing that the hospital could do nothing for their children have taken them home to die. Before the bombing began Dr Eaman Tariq Al Gebory came to work as a volunteer from Egypt and since then she has been living permanently at the hospital. She told us that before the war she thought that it would be a situation where many children were injured but she never thought that so many children would be injured and killed. She didn't know when she would be able to return to Egypt, she felt that she was needed among the children. It is very painful for her to see that the medical staff's efforts are wasted because of lack of medicines. Mothers and children arrive at the hospital very weak from of lack of food and diarrhoea from the contaminated water, a weak child and unclean water are a lethal combination. I asked her how many children she had seen die because of this, but she couldn't give any numbers, they were too many. Carlos Reyes-Manzo has travelled all over the world documenting social and human rights issues. He began his career in Chile where he suffered imprisonment and torture under the Pinochet regime.

A campaign lead by Amnesty International, Cardinal Hume and several Bishops' Conferences lead to his release. He told ICN: "The plight of the Iraqis now is a poignant reminder of the situation we experienced in Chile - where so many people were killed and disappeared" Carlos Reyes-Manzo is now based in London. His latest images of the Al Kindi Hospital described above, can be seen at: http://www.andespressagency.com/

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