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Iraqi Hospitals Are War's New 'Killing Fields'

"What is going to happen to us?" asked Abu Nasr, looking over photos and death certificates of Sunni relatives abducted from a Baghdad hospital by Shiite militiamen. The body of one cousin was later found in a Shiite slum. (Photos By Amit R. Paley -- The Washington Post)

"We are the Health Ministry for all of Iraq. Not for Sunnis, not for Shiites. For everyone," Yahya said. "If a car bomb explosion takes place, do we ask who is Sunni or Shiite? No. We treat all victims, regardless of who they are or what sect they are."

Sahib al-Amiri, a leader in the Sadr movement, said: "These things that are being said in the Baghdad street are untrue. The Mahdi Army's only role is to fight the Sunni insurgents and protect the Shiites."

But the relatives of Sunni hospital patients tell a different story. In the case of Mounthir Abbas Saud, a trip to a hospital set off a chain of events that sparked an ongoing six-month-old drama in which two of his cousins are dead and two more are missing.

It started with cigarettes. As Saud strolled down a street in the Karrada district on Feb. 27 to buy a pack, a powerful car bomb wrenched his right arm off his body, ripped off much of his face and sprayed shrapnel into his lower intestines.

His prognosis was grim. Saud could breathe only with a tube that needed to be cleaned several times an hour. His family flocked to Ibn al-Nafis to watch over him.

Two weeks later, as Saud's cousin Hazim Aboud Saud returned to the hospital after a trip to buy medication for his wounded relative, he saw the facility surrounded by militiamen carrying machine guns, the family said. He watched as the gunmen removed the still severely wounded cousin from the building -- just dragging him on the ground instead of using a stretcher, his family said. The militia members loaded Saud, his brother Khodair and a cousin, Adil Aboud Saud, into an ambulance and drove away.

"They were screaming, 'We haven't done anything wrong! Why are you doing this?' " said Abu Nasr. "They begged the men to at least take care of my wounded cousin properly."

A few days later, Mounthir's bullet-riddled body was discovered in Sadr City, a Shiite slum controlled by the Mahdi Army. His mouth was stuffed with dirt.

When militiamen discovered that one of the cousins, Hazim Saud, a 32-year-old taxi driver, had witnessed the abductions, they quickly kidnapped him, his family said. His body was found March 27 with his hands -- broken and blue from apparent beatings -- bound behind his back and a plastic bag over his head. The death certificate said he had been suffocated.

But the family held out hope that the two men seized with Mounthir Saud -- Khodair and Adil Saud -- were still alive. When another cousin, Haithem Ali Abbas, a judge in Baghdad, received a call from the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry that they had been located, he hurried to the ministry's headquarters to pick them up. He was shot to death by unknown gunmen shortly after he arrived.

The suffering extends even to those who now wouldn't dare enter a hospital. Abu Youssef, a cousin of Mounthir Saud who has a pea-size tumor in his right foot, now walks with a limp and acute pain because he is petrified to see a doctor. Another relative with a condition that causes overproduction of blood cells won't go for his normal treatments anymore.

On a recent weekday morning, Abu Nasr sat in a quiet restaurant in central Baghdad and pulled out a crumpled envelope filled with death certificates and photographs of his recently killed relatives. Sighing heavily and staring frequently at the dirty ground, he said he prayed that someone would rescue the country from the sectarian violence that is ravaging it.

"We don't care whether the government is Shiite, Sunni, American or Iranian. All we want is security and safety," he said. "But no one in the government represents that now."

When asked whether Iraq has already descended into civil war, he said: "Of course. All the Shiites want to do is kill all the Sunnis."

"What is going to happen to us?" he said as he clutched a tiny photo of his dead cousin Mounthir. "What is going to happen to this country?"

Special correspondent Saad Sarhan in Najaf and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

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