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For Iraqi Soldiers, A Medical Morass
The Defense Ministry, working with the U.S. military, has opened 14 outpatient clinics around Iraq. Liaisons have been placed in four of more than a dozen public hospitals in Baghdad to assist wounded soldiers, Hassan said. Seven "follow-up" stations were established two months ago; staffers there track patients and committees judge whether disabled soldiers should be retired, he said.
"In 2005, soldiers would die outside of hospitals because they were not allowed in because of people standing outside the gates saying we're not taking any more patients," Edward said. "The fact that they're actually receiving the care and that there are medical follow-up sections that are running and clinics that are capable of taking care of them -- you really can't ignore those facts."
A proposed military retirement law -- which would grant retirees a pension worth 80 percent of their salaries -- has been stuck in Iraq's cabinet for a year, Hassan said. Under current law, injured soldiers can retain their salaries if they regularly submit notes from their doctor.
The salaries -- starting at around $400 a month -- go only so far. Mohammed Hamis Jassem, 24, was outside a Baghdad bank last August when a car bomber slammed into his military police unit's checkpoint, spewing shrapnel that broke his left leg and sliced through his small intestine. After doctors at Kindi Hospital said his injuries required treatment at Medical City, Jassem said, he spent one hour outside under the summer sun, his innards exposed, waiting for an ambulance to take him there.
Since then, Jassem's parents have sold a plot of Baghdad land for $13,000, which they used to buy two dairy cows and to pay his medical bills, including $5,000 for eye surgery in Iran. Jassem still needs another operation to repair his intestine, which now empties waste through a hole in his lower abdomen and into a bag that he changes three times a day.
"I wish I died in that explosion," said Jassem, wearing a baggy sweat shirt on a recent warm day so that no one would think the bulge on his belly was a suicide belt. "Right now I can't do anything. I am spending money. This is not a good situation."
But the sense of abandonment is worse, soldiers said. Most acknowledged they never asked what care they would receive if wounded. They simply expected easy access to the care they needed, or even the option to fly out of Iraq for treatment. Hassan, the surgeon general, said Iraq has sent fewer than 30 soldiers outside the country for treatment since the war began.
'My Life Was Destroyed'
The car bomb that wounded Jassem enveloped fellow military policeman Mussen Abbas Khadim, 20, in a ball of fire. He wrote a request to the Defense Ministry to be sent outside the country for plastic surgery, because Iraqi doctors have told him they cannot repair his deformed face and what he calls his "melted-off" ears. Khadim said he has not received a response.
"No one from the government or the military came to at least say, 'Thank God for your safety.' These words -- 'Thank God for your safety' -- could raise my morale," said Khadim, 20, weeping during a phone interview from his home in Hilla, 60 miles south of Baghdad. "I would never join the military again. . . . My life was destroyed."
Massen, meanwhile, spends days tinkering on his computer and avoiding sleep, which brings nightmares and electrifying pain. He e-mailed inquiries about prosthetics to hospitals in Germany and was told that the best leg in the world could be his -- for the impossible sum of $25,000.
There is a prosthetics clinic for Iraqis in the Green Zone, but Massen said he was never told about it. The liaison for Iraqis treated at the Green Zone's military hospital -- an Iraqi-born physician who gives his name only as "Dr. Abraham" out of fear -- scoffed when told this.
"All Iraqis find some kind of excuse to get out of the country -- trust me," he said.
Massen said that was not his intention. On a recent day, he narrated a photo album filled with pictures of himself -- buffer, tanner and smiling -- striking menacing poses with fellow soldiers.
"He's dead. He's dead. One IED. One kidnapped," Massen narrated in vacant, halting English. "Ameer. He's dead. Sniper."
Once he gets a new leg, Massen said, he will get married. And then, if the army will have him, he will rush back to his .50-caliber rifle.
"The army is beautiful," he said, breaking into a rare smile. "It's not in their hands. The government is bad."
Special correspondent Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and staff researcher Robert E. Thomason in Washington contributed to this report.