Athbah, Iraq- At the Athbah field hospital south of Mosul most of the medical staff is from the war-torn Iraqi city and each one of the victims they treat could be a relative or a neighbor.
Doctor Faruq Abdulkader, 29, is treating a teenager who is writhing in pain but was relatively lucky.
“The bullet went straight through the arm without touching the bone,” the doctor said, relieved.
Nearby, Doctor Sultan, who chose not to divulge his full name, is treating a man in his forties with facial injuries.
“He’s stable,” the 43-year-old says, after feeling the pulse in the patient’s bloodied wrist.
According to an Agence France Presse report, these doctors used to work in Mosul but fled the rule of ISIS jihadists. Now that regular forces are wresting back Iraq’s second city street by street, they are back to help.
The Athbah field hospital opened on March 24 with support from the World Health Organization and the Iraqi health authorities.
Abdulkader said most of the injuries they treated were caused by explosions but the hardest thing was often to witness the suffering of their own neighbors.
“Some of them are our neighbors, coming from the same area where I was living in Mosul, and I’m so sad for them,” he said.
Abdulkader says he feels lucky to be in a position to support the humanitarian effort because two of his fellow doctors were killed — “one by the jihadists and the other in an air strike.”
The fighting to retake what is now the last major ISIS stronghold in Iraq is taking its toll on civilians.
According to the United Nations, at least 307 of them were killed between February 17 and March 22, a period which only covers the first weeks of the offensive on west Mosul but not the entire operation that started in mid-October last year.
Ali Saad Abdulkhaled, a 26-year-old nurse who used to treat people in his home in east Mosul during the fighting there, said the number of wounded civilians was increasing sharply.
“Nearly all our patients suffer from malnutrition,” says Taryn Anderson, head nurse at the Athbah clinic. “We can’t call it a famine but it’s very alarming, especially for the children.”
After examining the very weak patient who was just wheeled in, the doctors decide against a transfusion — the precious blood they do have will be saved for other patients with a real chance of survival.
“The west side is more densely populated, it’s the Old City,” Abdulkhaled said. “The number of victims is huge. They are our neighbors, our families.”