Battle Hospital: Medics at WarBMJ 2004; 328 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.328.7438.530 (Published 26 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:530
All rapid responses
I am sorry that Dr Al-Qassab was distressed to read my review. I
agree that injuries to either civilians or military personnel are shocking
and inappropriate as entertainment, and tried to make this clear when I
wrote of television letting us all share in the sense of horror and
futility (of war). I do, however, disagree with many Dr Al-Qassab’s
My view of the war was to question, in the last paragraph of the
review, whether war could be justified – but to affirm that as a result a
cruel despot has been overthrown. This may be a personal view, but it is
certainly based on fact, on my own observations while in Iraq, and on the
views of a great many Iraqis as freely expressed to me. A very large
majority of those that I spoke to supported the war, as has been confirmed
again by a recent opinion poll conducted in Iraq.
I certainly had read the reports on the effect of sanctions on the
Iraqi people, and saw evidence of it myself. There is a fundamental
problem for those that would lay these effects at the door of the United
Nations, however. Iraq had enough resources to trade under the ‘Oil for
Food’ Programme that no Iraqi need have starved, and none need have gone
short of drugs. I heard and saw abundant evidence that Saddam used the
distribution of food and drugs as another weapon against his own people,
whilst simultaneously blaming the effects on the UN.
Dr Al-Qassab’s view that my abiding memory was only about the US
personnel is disappointing. “I remembered standing in a huge area of
crumbling earth, surrounded by fragments of bone and clothing, shock
turning to rage at the realisation that these were the mortal remains of
thousands of murdered Iraqis”. This is a memory that will stay with me,
and I do not think that I could have put it much more clearly than this in
my review. I also spoke about the deaths of civilians and soldiers during
the war, although they are outnumbered many times by those who ended their
lives in Saddam’s mass graves.
Much of the effort of the Coalition Provisional Authority has been
directed at humanitarian assistance. In the case of the health team that
I was attached to, this mostly took the form of working with the Iraqi
Ministry of Health to re-establish public health programmes and health
services run by and for Iraqis. It seemed to me that this was how it
should be – and the very many Iraqis that we worked with agreed. It seems
a pity that Dr Al-Qassab thinks that this is somehow politically
incorrect, when they did not.
I was seconded to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad as Public Health Adviser, May - July 2003
Competing interests: No competing interests
I was rather dismayed and distressed to hear Dr. Kirkup review of
this documentary. I could not bring myself to watch injuries to civilians
or military personnel when the program was shown [though I saw snippets of
it]. This feeling is not being helped by plethora of programs currently
being shown in all the media. Nearly all are trying to gloss over the
Iraq invasion as a historical event [of entertainment value ] and timeline
that has moved on rather than a serious breach of international law.
It seems that it is compulsory to start any criticism of the Iraq
invasion by denouncing dictatorship and despotism first if you are to be
taken seriously. I do here unreservedly [ but not for theses reasons]. Dr.
Kirkup reasons for supporting the war are personal. They have, as we know
now, no basis in fact.Nor do they have a basis in international law [at
least to large body of lawyers]. The dictatorship and tyranny that ruled
Iraq over the last 30 years are matters for the Iraqi people. The
international community and individual countries could and should have
helped in any way they wanted. But a change of government should be for
the people concerned only.
It is also regrettable and disingenuous to blame the current sate of
the health services now on the regime's policy in 1990’s. As a public
health doctor, I hope he had the chance to read various UN agencies’
reports [among many others] on the human [and not only public health and
economic costs] of the crippling sanctions during these years. Half a
million dead people are not ' price worth paying' for containment [Mrs.
It is also regrettable that his abiding memory was of the members of
US army who were trying to help Iraqis but not the plight of the Iraqis
themselve. I find myself too deeply troubled by any war deaths [friend or
foe] to say this. But Dr. Kirkup doesn’t spare a thought for the physical
and psychological deaths and injuries that the occupying military powers
have inflicted on civilians. This was in violation of the basic
humanitarian instincts [and not only their obligations under the Geneva
Convention]; clearly military orders overrode everything else.
I hope your readers would appreciate that Iraq doesn’t need advise
from those who actively contributed to so much misery and destruction on
the country and its people over the last 14 years [unprecedented in modern
history]. Rather it needs genuine humanitarian assistance [both material
& moral] without any political overtones.
I hope Dr. kirkup has written his article without a hessian bag over
his head, nor with his arms tied behind his back.
Thank you for your attention
I am an doctor of an Iraqi origin who opposes the war
Competing interests: No competing interests