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FALLUJAH, Iraq - A captain with the Iraqi Security Forces speaks with medical personnel inside a clinic here May 15 as he inspects their dentistry equipment. ISF worked alongside American personnel to speak with local doctors and clinic administrators to find out what supplies they needed, and how military personnel can help improve Iraq's medical system.

Photo by Cpl. Mike Escobar

Operation Medical Mentoring works to heal Iraq’s medical system

15 May 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

As the people of Fallujah work by the roadsides, removing concrete rubble from in front of their homes with wheelbarrows and shovels, they are doing more than cleaning up the remnants of past violent conflict.  They are picking up the pieces of a life fractured by years of tyranny, oppression and conflict.

Little by little, Fallujah’s citizens and their nation’s security forces are rebuilding every aspect of their lives.  Their soldiers patrol the streets to root out those few remaining opponents of freedom and democracy.  They provide blackboards and school supplies to the kids’ schools.  And now, the soldiers are striving to rebuild the nation’s healthcare system.

On May 15, Iraqi and American military personnel traveled to two local medical clinics to begin Operation Medical Mentoring. 

A convoy of soldiers and U.S. Marines from Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment accompanied a physician with the Iraqi Security Forces’ 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, as he spoke with the clinics’ doctors and administrative personnel to assess their needs.

The Iraqi soldiers brought with them boxes of medical supplies, such as acute care medications, and handed them out to the local physicians to augment their depleted stores. 

Additionally, the two parties discussed problems the clinics have been experiencing.

“It is very good that the Iraqi forces have come down to ask us what we need,” stated Mohamed Abd Al-Kareem, clinic administrator at the Door Al-Sament clinic.  “We have many problems in this region, and look forward to working together to fix them.”

Inadequate supplies and logistical difficulties were among the concerns doctors and administrators voiced.

“Their biggest complaint was the supply system,” explained Navy Lt. Brendon Drew, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s surgeon.  “Due to security reasons and insurgent activity in Ramadi, and in between Fallujah and Baghdad, the traditional supply routes for medication are broken down right now.  Because of this breakdown, they (clinic personnel) can’t get medications as fast as they need.”

Drew added that because of continued insurgent presence, the Iraqi and Coalition personnel must continue halting traffic to search every vehicle coming into Fallujah.  This rule also applies to ambulances.

“Our ambulances have trouble moving freely at night,” said Tha’er Basheer Abdullah, a medical practitioner at the Al-Jolani clinic.

Even emergency vehicles are subject to searches, as insurgents attempt to use vehicles such as these to hide weapons and explosives.  Ambulances are searched and pushed through checkpoints as quickly as possible, but the delay remains.

However, the solutions to many of these problems rest in the hands of Fallujah’s own people.

“When the Iraqi people don’t allow insurgent activity anymore, then these types of controls won’t be necessary,” Drew stated.  “This (Operation Medical Mentoring) is a way to remind the doctors to remind the people that some of the problems in the healthcare system are directly related to insurgent activity.”

Despite the numerous concerns voiced, Drew said the Iraqi forces have made progress in rebuilding their country’s medical system by providing security to the city’s residents.

“We can now start convincing the NGOs (non-government organizations) that Fallujah is now a safe place for them to bring their medical personnel and supplies,” he continued.  “They have pre-packaged goods to give to Iraqi clinics, but the security situation had been keeping them away.”

The ISF will continue helping the physicians rebuild the medical system that takes care of them as well.

Meanwhile, personnel at both clinics expressed their gratitude toward the ISF, along with their optimistic outlooks on the future.

“We look forward to fixing the problems we currently have,” Al-Kareem stated.  “We thank the Iraqi and Coalition forces for the help they’ve already provided.”

“This is good cooperation (between medical personnel and ISF),” Abdullah added, agreeing with Al-Kareem.  “The ISF have become more helpful.  Things are getting better everyday.”