The Washington Post
April 15, 2003
NASIRIYAH, Iraq, April 14 — Accounts of the U.S. military’s dramatic rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch from Saddam Hospital here two weeks ago read like the stuff of a Hollywood script. For Iraqi doctors working in the hospital that night, it was exactly that — Hollywood dazzle, with little need for real action.
“They made a big show,” said Haitham Gizzy, a physician at the public hospital here who treated Lynch for her injuries. “It was just a drama,” he said. “A big, dramatic show.”
Gizzy and other doctors said no Iraqi soldiers or militiamen were at the hospital that night, April 1, when the U.S. Special Operations forces came in helicopters to carry out the midnight rescue. Most of the Saddam’s Fedayeen fighters, and the entire Baath Party leadership, including the governor of the province, had come to the hospital earlier in the day, changed into civilian clothes and fled, the doctors said.
“They brought their civilian wear with them,” said Mokhdad Abd Hassan, who was on duty that day and evening. He pointed to green army uniforms still piled on the lawn. “You can see their military suits,” he said. “They all ran away, the same day.”
“It was all the leadership,” Gizzy said. “Even the governor and the director general of the Baath Party. . . . They left walking, barefoot, in civilian wear.”
The disappearance of the Iraqi forces from Nasiriyah — a crossroads town 200 miles south of Baghdad that was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting and heaviest U.S. casualties in the war — in many ways mirrored the evaporation of the militia and Baath Party fighters elsewhere in Iraq. From the southern city of Basra, where British troops walked in almost unopposed after a 21/2-week standoff, to the capital, Baghdad, where President Saddam Hussein and his ruling circle vanished without a trace, Iraqi resistance to the U.S.-led invasion appears to have followed a well-set and planned pattern: Fight to a point, then disappear.
In Nasiriyah, “it look like an organized manner” of retreat, Gizzy said. The governor arrived in his dark four-wheel-drive Land Cruiser, which he left parked in the hospital driveway as he escaped on foot.
The car remains in the driveway , minus its four wheels that a religious group removed to prevent a rival political faction from stealing it. The fleeing Iraqi government hierarchy left behind seven other new and expensive cars, but the doctors said they set fire to them to eliminate the temptation for looters to scale the hospital walls.
U.S. troops have been posted at the hospital to secure it against looters. But at the time U.S. commandos came to rescue Lynch, Gizzy said, “there were no soldiers at our hospital, just the medical staff. There were just us doctors.”
Lynch, 19, a supply clerk with the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company, was captured March 23 when her unit made a wrong turn near Nasiriyah and was ambushed. Initial accounts reported how she was shot and stabbed and continued battling Iraqi fighters until she ran out of ammunition. But the doctors here who treated her said she suffered fractures to her arms and lower limbs and a “small skull wound,” sustained when her vehicle overturned.
Lynch’s U.S. doctors have said she suffered fractures in her upper right arm, upper left leg, lower left leg and right ankle and foot. Her father, Greg Lynch Sr., told reporters she had no penetration wounds.
“It was a road traffic accident,” Gizzy said. “There was not a drop of blood. . . . There were no bullets or shrapnel or anything like that.” At the hospital, he said, “She was given special care, more than the Iraqi patients.”
The physician said Lynch was first treated at an Iraqi military hospital before being transferred to the Saddam public hospital. An intelligence agent was posted in the hallway to guard the prisoner of war’s first-floor hospital room. An Iraqi man whose wife worked at the hospital noticed the guard, discovered Lynch was the patient and alerted U.S. military personnel. He was sent back to gather more information, and the rescue was carried out April 1.
Hassan and other doctors said they were on duty that evening, when “we heard a big thumping nearby the hospital. And the sound of helicopters — not just one. Then someone from the hospital, a colleague, said soldiers were entering the hospital from the back door.”
“We agreed to stay in one room, not to intervene,” Hassan said. The soldiers broke down several doors in the hospital before locating Lynch, and then went to the back of the hospital to recover the remains of nine U.S. soldiers buried in shallow graves. Eight of them, from Lynch’s unit, were killed in the same ambush.
“They took Jessica and recovered the cadavers from behind the hospital,” Hassan said. He said he believed the U.S. troops were on the hospital grounds for almost three hours.
The doctors at Nasiriyah’s public hospital said they welcomed the U.S. and British invasion for having toppled Hussein’s government. But that support is tempered by the high number of civilian casualties in Nasiriyah. Many of them, including women and children, remain in the crowded wards, suffering from severed limbs and deep lacerations the doctors said were caused by U.S. tank fire and bombs during the first week of the war.
Doctors said they have no exact documentation, but estimated that 300 civilians were killed in Nasiriyah and 1,000 people were wounded. They said most of the patients were discharged from the 400-bed hospital, but 60 remained on the hospital’s third floor.
“I was shot by the Americans,” said Akeel Kadhim, 20, a student whose left leg was amputated. “I was running to another wounded person, trying to save him. . . . We are innocent. We were not fighting. We were not resisting. I tried to save an innocent person. Why did they shoot me?”
In the next bed, Hassan Aoda, 28, said he was riding on a bus with 28 other Iraqis when a U.S. armored vehicle opened fire on them at a road crossing on March 25. “I don’t know why they shot at us,” he said, lying on his back and nursing a fractured left shoulder and arm. “I’m an innocent person. I wasn’t fighting the Americans.”
He added, “I’m not angry. I’m angry at Saddam Hussein.”
©2003 The Washington Post Company