Free clinic well-received in Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad
Stars and Stripes August 28, 2006
BAGHDAD — Tarek Nema Aziz pointed to his lower jaw and screwed up his wrinkled face in obvious discomfort.
The American army dentist leaned over the 61-year-old and tenderly touched the loose, brown-yellow tooth, one of the few left in Tarek’s mouth.
The dentist’s reaction, in English, needed no translation.
“Oooh,” he said, grimacing. “That’s not good.”
With that, he reached for anaesthetic and a pair of pliers and got to work.
Tarek was just one of more than 200 residents of Ghazaliya, a restive Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, who swarmed a local government building to attend a four-hour free medical clinic Friday night. The clinic, organized by the Fort Lewis, Wash.-based 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, was set up to give free medical treatment and to increase confidence in the area’s newly stabilized security situation.
Both Iraqi and American medical personnel — three Iraqis, four Americans — tended to the flurry of patients, handed out medicine and reveled in the happy chaos.
In Ghazaliya, a Sunni area known as a flash point for sectarian violence, seeing people walk the streets, mingling with Iraqi and American soldiers — and allowing medical staff from both countries to prod and pull at them in sensitive places — is nothing short of miraculous. Soldiers from the American battalion were exuberant as they walked the streets Friday night, greeting residents and shaking hands.
“When we were at the neighborhood council last week, this is what they said they wanted,” said battalion commander Lt. Col. Van Smiley. “They asked us for a medical operation to help the people.”
The patients seemed grateful for the help.
Zaid Hikmat, 14, came seeking attention for his left arm, which was burned in a car accident. He betrayed no pain as an Iraqi Army medic applied ointments and gauze to the burn.
In halting English, Zaid said he was so grateful for the medical treatment that he hoped to become a doctor himself and help others.
“It’s a good thing for everyone to be a doctor,” he said.
Ghazaliya resident and doctor Hayder Al-Sudani, who was not one of the doctors working at the clinic, said he was pleased to see people out on the streets.
“It’s getting better,” he said in English. “Not too much. A little bit.”
Doctors said most patients suffered from common ailments: diabetes, high blood pressure and dental complaints. A female American Army nurse tended to female patients. And back in the dentist’s chair, an endless procession of older Iraqis opened their mouths and proffered rotted teeth for the pulling.
The dentist, who is with a Special Operations unit and asked not to be identified, said he was pleased to be able to volunteer his services, but said Iraqi dental health leaves much to be desired. He refused to divulge how many teeth he pulled during the four-hour mission.
“I don’t keep count,” he said. “It’s an easy statistic, but not a happy statistic.”
Smiley, for his part, beamed as he watched patients emerge with medicine and wide smiles.
“Talking to the people,” he said later, “there was genuine gratitude.”