The Euphrates River grows wider as it moves south and away from Najaf to the city of Nasiriyah. Here the U.S. military encountered its first major resistance during the Iraq war and it was here that Pfc. Jessica Lynch was captured, treated and then rescued in one of the war's most confusing and controversial moments.
Nasiriyah is just beginning to clean up. The Republican Hospital, where Saddam Fedayeen loyalists based themselves, is in ruins. It was bombed so badly that walls are still collapsed, and only a small outbuilding containing the kidney dialysis machines still operates. There are more dogs in the empty corridors than there are patients.
This has put a great strain on the city's other large hospital, the former Saddam Hospital, which has been renamed Nasiriyah General. This is where Lynch was helped by a group of doctors, including Dr. Said Abdul Raza, who tells us he gave her two bottles of his own child's blood to help save her life.
There have been so many stories about Lynch it is impossible to verify his story, but his colleagues say it's true.
Gratitude and Grumbling
The emergency room is quite busy today. Patients are wheeled or carried in from private cars, taxis and occasionally an old ambulance. Four doctors are on duty for every six-hour shift. The ER chief, Dr. Imad Adine, says in the weeks after the war he would treat about a dozen people a day for bullet or mine wounds, but now that number is down to only about one.
The cases now are more routine: car accidents, work injuries, illness. While we're there a family carries in their adult daughter on top of a thick blanket, but she is clearly dead. Adine pretends to try to save her but quickly pronounces his verdict. Her mother weeps loudly but there is nothing more to do.
In the next bed over is a 9-year-old boy who fell out of a second-floor window and has injured his head. His father says the care is now better than it was when Saddam was around because corruption is no longer the norm.
"Before the war we had to pay just to be here," he told us, detailing the network of bribes that had to be paid to nurses, doctors, administrators and others. "Now you don't need money to get a doctor. Now the doctors are honest."
Although there is a great deal of gratitude for getting rid of Saddam, there is also a lot of grumbling about America in the teahouses of Nasiriyah.
"The Americans are not doing enough," a café owner tells us. Others complain about the price of food and gas. Jarallah Ali complains about the prices of meat, chicken, fish, tomatoes. He can't even buy the bars of soap he once used because the price has doubled since the war.
"Why can't America help us?" he asks. "They could bring in more goods and keep the prices down."
A Willing Martyr
Some of the talk is ominous. Abdullah Gneishsheet is holding a photo and describing how on March 25, the U.S. Marines attacked his house with artillery, killing his 4-year-old son, his brother, mother-in-law, father-in-law and his wife, who was in her eighth month of pregnancy. His eyes are raging but sad. He, too, was shot in the legs and he says he "lost his manhood" and therefore can never remarry.
"I want the coalition to pay me some compensation," he says, holding up a petition he says he tried to present to the Americans before being turned away.
"I am angry with the Americans," he says. "They took everything that was precious in my life: my wife, my brother, my child."
He is willing to be a suicide bomber, he says — his life is ruined.
"Yes, I will do anything, I will kill myself. I will explode myself on them because I have even lost my health. I have nothing left to cry for."
These are the real complaints of people, nothing much about the electricity or water, the kinds of infrastructure inconveniences that bother comfortable Americans. The issues here are more life and death and much is centered on revenge.
"The Baathists are still in power," intones Hassan Shakr Hahmoud, with a wide cut of the hand. "We need to get rid of them, find the millions that Saddam stole from us and use that to compensate the victims of this war."
That gets widespread approval from everyone, especially Abdullah Gneishsheet — who will, of course, never see any such money.