OTTAWA -- Red Cross doctors who visited southern Iraq this week saw "incredible" levels of civilian casualties including a truckload of dismembered women and children, a spokesman said yesterday from Baghdad.
Roland Huguenin, one of six International Red Cross workers in the Iraqi capital, said doctors were horrified by the casualties they found in the hospital in Hilla, about 160 kilometres south of Baghdad.
"There has been an incredible number of casualties with very, very serious wounds in the region of Hilla," Huguenin said in a interview by satellite telephone.
"We saw that a truck was delivering dozens of totally dismembered dead bodies of women and children. It was an awful sight. It was really very difficult to believe this was happening."
Huguenin said the dead and injured in Hilla came from the village of Nasiriyah, where there has been heavy fighting between American troops and Iraqi soldiers, and appeared to be the result of "bombs, projectiles."
An Iraqi woman covers the casket of her dead son with the national flag at the al-Hilla hospital in the southern province of Babylon (AFP/Ramzi Haidar)
"At this stage we cannot comment on the nature of what happened exactly at that place . . . but it was definitely a different pattern from what we had seen in Basra or Baghdad.
"There will be investigations I am sure."
Baghdad and Basra are coping relatively well with the flow of wounded, said Huguenin, estimating that Baghdad hospitals have been getting about 100 wounded a day.
Most of the wounded in the two large cities have suffered superficial shrapnel wounds, with only about 15 per cent requiring internal surgery, he said.
But the pattern in Hilla was completely different.
"In the case of Hilla, everybody had very serious wounds and many, many of them small kids and women. We had small toddlers of two or three years of age who had lost their legs, their arms. We have called this a horror."
At least 400 people were taken to the Hilla hospital over a period of two days, he said -- far beyond its capacity.
"Doctors worked around the clock to do as much as they could. They just had to manage, that was all."
The city is no longer accessible, he added.
Red Cross staff are also concerned about what may be happening in other smaller centres south of Baghdad.
"We do not know what is going on in Najaf and Karbala. It has become physically impossible for us to reach out to those cities because the major road has become a zone of combat."
The Red Cross was able to claim one significant success this week: it played a key role in re-establishing water supplies at Basra.
Power for a water-pumping station had been accidentally knocked out in the attack on the city, leaving about a million people without water. Iraqi technicians couldn't reach the station to repair it because it was under coalition control.
© 2003 Canadian Press