- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2007


BAGHDAD — Wounded American troops with spinal-cord injuries get top-quality medical care, but Iraqis are not so lucky.

Iraq has just one hospital that specializes in spinal injuries. Its beds are full, and patients are being turned away.

Mohammed Abdul Hussein, a 26-year-old police officer rendered a paraplegic when he was shot while riding his motorcycle home from work, is one of the lucky ones who made it inside the Ibn al-Kuff Hospital for Spinal Cord Injuries in Baghdad.

He moaned as he tried to shift his limp body in his bed.

Down the corridor, 12-year-old Saddam Radi, who lost the use of his legs after a bullet ripped through his torso during a firefight, struggled to raise his arms during an intensive therapy session.

Nearby, Jassem Tharaya, 51, a retired civil servant, repeatedly pulled a cord from a machine to work the muscles in his right arm. He has no use of his legs.

“This is my lot in life,” Mr. Tharaya said. “It’s God’s will. I must accept it.”

Some wounded Iraqis must wait more than a year for a coveted bed at Ibn al-Kuff, said Safaa Mahdi, the hospital’s director. The struggle to cope with the casualties is compounded by shortages of staff, medications and equipment.

“There’s more pressure on us than at any time before,” said Barazan Majeed, 46, a physiotherapist who has worked at the hospital since 1984.

Built in 1983 on the outskirts of Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood, Ibn al-Kuff has undergone many transformations.

It was looted after the U.S.-led invasion four years ago, but the humanitarian relief agency CARE International led the restoration of the building and helped replace its equipment.

Today, staff members say money is available from the government to make other improvements, but security problems in this part of the city make the facility off-limits to most.

With 105 beds, hospital workers struggle to keep up with an estimated 200 serious spinal-cord injuries every year.

Because Ibn al-Kuff is the only hospital of its kind in the country, Iraqis have few options. Most can’t afford to travel abroad for treatment, and even those with money are hindered by security and travel restrictions.

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