A 6-foot-wide picture hanging at the front gate of
's Health Ministry removes any doubts about who runs the place. Iraq
The photo is of the father and uncle of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, both of whom were religious leaders killed by Saddam Hussein's regime. Employees of the ministry, many of whom are loyalists to al-Sadr, pass their images every day as they go to work. Al-Sadr's ironclad control over
's health system and other key ministries has come under renewed scrutiny following recent clashes between his Mahdi Army militia and the Iraqi army. Iraq
Under the influence of the militia and other Sadrists, Iraq's hospitals and clinics have been at the center of some of the country's worst sectarian violence, although recent improvements in security nationwide have made Iraqis less afraid to seek medical attention. Doctors such as Haydar al-Kawaz, the director of the emergency room at
Baghdad's , say that security has slowly improved even though sectarian divisions have not disappeared. "If you come calm and you're not shouting political slogans, it will be safe," al-Kawaz said. "But if you say, 'I am from this group or that group,' it is not safe still." Yarmouk Hospital
The Health Ministry has been under al-Sadr's control since 2005, when his political party gained more seats than any other group. His ensuing decision to staff the Health Ministry with his loyalists provided al-Sadr with a critical boost to his reputation among his followers, said Agron Ferrati, the
director for the International Medical Corps, a non-profit group. Iraq
"It was a brilliant move," Ferrati said. "Provide medicines, doctors and services, and you become a hero in your society."
During the height of
's sectarian violence in 2006, many Sunni patients avoided hospitals they knew were Shiite-controlled, fearing they'd be targeted by al-Sadr's militia. Militia members frequently used ambulances to ferry around weapons instead of patients. Iraq
Al-Sadr's control over Kimadia, the state-run company that is responsible for importing and distributing drugs and supplies to
's hospitals, also poses problems, Ferrati said. "Kimadia has a stranglehold on the whole medical sector, and that is a source of power through which Sadr can control the health sector and threaten the country," Ferrati said. "If they decide to stop working, then you cut off all the drugs into Iraq ." Iraq
The cleric's followers have reacted harshly when their power was threatened. When one hospital challenged Kimadia's monopoly by importing drugs on its own, someone planted a rumor that the drugs were infected with HIV, sending panic through the community, said Hilal Shawki, a cardiologist.
The turmoil in the health sector, plus an open campaign by militants to target trained professionals, has severely damaged
's ability to care for its sick. Since 2003, 2,200 doctors and nurses have been killed, and 250 more have been kidnapped, according to a report published last week by the International Red Cross. Of the 34,000 doctors registered in 1990, at least 20,000 have left the country. Iraq
That has left fewer doctors to tend to more patients, and
treated an astounding 45,000 patients last year, said al-Kawaz, the emergency room director. It's now 90% safe to come to Yarmouk Hospital , al-Kawaz said. Of course, that means it's also 10% unsafe, he acknowledged. Yarmouk Hospital
"I am wearing jeans and a T-shirt, which means I am hiding from something," the unshaven 37-year-old said. "I dress like an assistant so I will not stand out. Being a doctor here threatens our lives."
♠ Posted by Emmanuel in Security at 3/28/2008 02:03:00 AMMany in the United States fear that the election of a second President Clinton may mean the resurrection of HillaryCare. Well, there is something out there that is much more frightening because it's, well, real. For some reason I can't recall, I was led to the pages of USA Today and this article on "Sadrists' Grip on Iraqis' Health Care Takes Toll." What you have here is a situation in which the health ministry as well as the main importer of medicines is run by Muqtada's acolytes. It just furthers my conviction that the illusory gains made by the US in Iraq as of late have been bought by paying protection money to various groups who would like nothing else than kick the "crusaders" out. Awakening [to the payoff] Councils, al-SadrCare...it's all bound to end in disaster. So, American voters, keep in mind that there are much, much worse things than HillaryCare: