Jessica Lynch, 19, seen in this undated photo,
was one of several soldiers who went missing after their
supply convoy was ambushed in southern Iraq March 24.
Lynch was rescued April 1, the Pentagon
The real 'Saving Pte. Lynch' Iraqi medical staff tell a different story than U.S.
military 'We all became friends with her, we liked her so
POTTER MIDDLE EAST BUREAU
IraqThe fog of war comes sometimes with a certain odour, and
cutting through its layers, like cutting through an onion, can bring
tears to the eyes.
Such is the case with what is far and away the most oft-told
story of the Persian Gulf War II the saga of Saving Private Lynch.
Branded on to our consciousness by media frenzy, the flawless
midnight rescue of 19-year-old Private First Class Jessica Lynch
hardly bears repeating even a month after the fact.
Precision teams of U.S. Army Rangers and Navy Seals, acting
on intelligence information and supported by four helicopter
gunships, ended Lynch's nine-day Iraqi imprisonment in true Rambo
style, raising America's spirits when it needed it most.
All Hollywood could ever hope to have in a movie was there in
this extraordinary feat of rescue except, perhaps, the truth.
So say three Nasiriya doctors, two nurses, one hospital
administrator and local residents interviewed separately last week
in a Toronto Star investigation.
The medical team that cared for Lynch at the hospital
formerly known as Saddam Hospital is only now beginning to
appreciate how grand a myth was built around the four hours the U.S.
raiding party spent with them early on April Fool's Day.
And they are disappointed.
For Dr. Harith Houssona, 24, who came to consider Lynch a
friend after nurturing her through the worst of her injuries, the
ironies are almost beyond tabulation.
"The most important thing to know is that the Iraqi soldiers
and commanders had left the hospital almost two days earlier,"
Houssona said. "The night they left, a few of the senior medical
staff tried to give Jessica back. We carefully moved her out of
intensive care and into an ambulance and began to drive to the
Americans, who were just one kilometre away. But when the ambulance
got within 300 metres, they began to shoot. There wasn't even a
chance to tell them `We have Jessica. Take her.'"
One night later, the raid unfolded. Hassam Hamoud, 35, a
waiter at Nasiriya's al-Diwan Restaurant, describes the preamble,
when he was approached outside his home near the hospital by U.S.
Special Forces troops accompanied by an Arabic translator from
"They asked me if any troops were still in the hospital and I
said `No, they're all gone.' Then they asked about Uday Hussein, and
again, I said `No,'" Hamoud said. "The translator seemed satisfied
with my answers, but the soldiers were very nervous."
At midnight, the sound of helicopters circling the hospital's
upper floors sent staff scurrying for the x-ray department the
only part of the hospital with no outside windows. The power was
cut, followed by small explosions as the raiding teams blasted
through locked doors.
A few minutes later, they heard a man's voice shout, "Go! Go!
Go!" in English. Seconds later, the door burst open and a red laser
light cut through the darkness, trained on the forehead of the chief
"We were pretty frightened. There were about 40 medical staff
together in the x-ray department," said Dr. Anmar Uday, 24.
"Everyone expected the Americans to come that day because the city
had fallen. But we didn't expect them to blast through the doors
like a Hollywood movie."
Dr. Mudhafer Raazk, 27, observed dryly that two cameramen and
a still photographer, also in uniform, accompanied the U.S. teams
into the hospital. Maybe this was a movie after all.
Separately, the Iraqi doctors describe how the tension fell
away rapidly once the Americans realized no threat existed on the
premises. A U.S. medic was led to Lynch's room as others secured the
rest of the three-wing hospital. Several staff and patients were
placed in plastic handcuffs, including, according to Houssona, one
Iraqi civilian who was already immobilized with abdominal wounds
from an earlier explosion.
One group of soldiers returned to the x-ray room to ask about
the bodies of missing U.S. soldiers and was led to a graveyard
opposite the hospital's south wall. All were dead on arrival, the
"The whole thing lasted about four hours," Raazk said. "When
they left, they turned to us and said `Thank you.' That was it."
The Iraqi medical staff fanned out to assess the damage. In
all, 12 doors were broken, a sterilized operating theatre
contaminated, and the specialized traction bed in which Lynch had
been placed was trashed.
"That was a special bed, the only one like it in the
hospital, but we gave it to Jessica because she was developing a bed
sore," Houssona said.
What bothers Raazk most is not what was said about Lynch's
rescue, so much as what wasn't said about her time in hospital.
"We all became friends with her, we liked her so much,"
Houssona said. "Especially because we all speak a little English, we
were able to assure her the whole time that there was no danger,
that she would go home soon."
Initial reports indicated Lynch had been shot and stabbed
after emptying her weapon in a pitched battle when her unit, the
U.S. Army's 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company, was ambushed after
its convoy became lost near Nasiriya.
A few days after her release, Lynch's father told reporters
none of the wounds were battle-related. The Iraqi doctors are more
specific. Houssona said the injuries were blunt in nature, possible
stemming from a fall from her vehicle.
"She was in pretty bad shape. There was blunt trauma,
resulting in compound fractures of the left femur (upper leg) and
the right humerus (upper arm). And also a deep laceration on her
head," Houssona said. "She took two pints of blood and we stabilized
her. The cut required stitches to close. But the leg and arm
injuries were more serious."
Nasiriya's medical team was going all out at this point, due
to the enormous influx of casualties from throughout the region. The
hospital lists 400 dead and 2,000 wounded in the span of two weeks
before and during Lynch's eight-day stay.
"Almost all were civilians, but I don't just blame the
Americans," Raazk said. "Many of those casualties were the fault of
the fedayeen, who had been using people as shields and in
some cases just shooting people who wouldn't fight alongside them.
It was horrible."
But they all made a point of giving Lynch the best of
everything, he added. Despite a scarcity of food, extra juice and
cookie were scavenged for their American guest.
They also assigned to Lynch the hospital's most nurturing
nurse, Khalida Shinah. At 43, Shinah has three daughters close to
Lynch's age. She immediately embraced her foreign patient as one of
"It was so scary for her," Shinah said through a translator.
"Not only was she badly hurt, but she was in a strange country. I
felt more like a mother than a nurse. I told her again and again,
Allah would watch over her. And many nights I sang her to sleep."
In the first few days, Houssona said the doctors were
somewhat nervous as to whether Iraqi intelligence agents would show
any interest in Lynch. But when the road between Nasiriya and
Baghdad fell to the U.S.-led coalition, they knew the danger had
"At first, Jessica was very frightened. Everybody was poking
their head in the room to see her and she said `Do they want to hurt
me?' I told her, `Of course not. They're just curious. They've never
seen anyone like you before.'
"But after a few days, she began to relax. And she really
bonded with Khalida. She told me, `I'm going to take her back to
America with me."
Three days before the U.S. raid, Lynch had regained enough
strength that the team was ready to proceed with orthopaedic surgery
on her left leg. The procedure involved cutting through muscle to
install a platinum plate to both ends of the compound fracture. "We
only had three platinum plates left in our supply and at least 100
Iraqis were in need," Raazk said. "But we gave one to Jessica."
A second surgery, and a second platinum plate, was scheduled
for Lynch's fractured arm. But U.S. forces removed her before it
took place, Raazk said.
Three days after the raid, the doctors had a visit from one
of their U.S. military counterparts. He came, they say, to thank
them for the superb surgery.
"He was an older doctor with gray hair and he wore a military
uniform," Raazk said.
"I told him he was very welcome, that it was our pleasure.
And then I told him: `You do realize you could have just knocked on
the door and we would have wheeled Jessica down to you, don't you?'
"He was shocked when I told him the real story. That's when I
realized this rescue probably didn't happen for propaganda reasons.
I think this American army is just such a huge machine, the left
hand never knows what the right hand is doing."
What troubles the staff in Nasiriya most are reports that
Lynch was abused while in their case. All vehemently deny it.
Told of the allegation through an interpreter, nurse Shinah
wells up with tears. Gathering herself, she responds quietly: "This
is a lie. But why ask me? Why don't you ask Jessica what kind of
treatment she received?"
But that is easier said than done. At the Pentagon last week,
U.S. Army spokesman Lt.-Col. Ryan Yantis said the door to Lynch
remains closed as she continues her recovery at Washington's Walter
Reed Army Medical Centre.
"Until such time as she wants to talk and that's going to
be no time soon, and it may be never at all the press is simply
going to have to wait."
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