Ambulances Scarce in Iraq

ByABC News
September 25, 2005, 8:03 PM

Sept. 26, 2005 — -- When an Iraqi civilian is hurt, the reality is that for nearly half of them help will never arrive. And every violent attack in Baghdad is another strain on an overwhelmed health care system.

One reason why is that driving an ambulance in Baghdad is a risky business. There is the aftermath of insurgent bombs. And drivers, like Mohammad Hassan Hamoodi, are sometimes viewed as a threat by the military.

As he says, "Who do you fear more, insurgents or soldiers? Soldiers. American or Iraqi."

Hamoodi drives one of only 35 working ambulances in this city of more than 5 million people. In one makeshift dispatch center, four phones ring almost constantly -- when the phones are working. The call log of one center reads like an emergency room nightmare: shooting, baby born, shooting, shooting, shooting.

And just getting to an emergency can take up to an hour if the ambulance gets there are all.

Juwad Khaum Zeboon, manager of Baghdad's emergency services, says, "We can only get to about 40 percent of the cases."

After arriving at one bombing scene, workers loaded two patients into an ambulance. Then it was hit by a secondary explosion. The patients died.

"Maybe they would have survived," Zeboon says, "but God's will was for them to die."

There is some good news for Baghdad's emergency services. Three hundred new ambulances are on order from Canada but officials still don't know when they'll arrive. Drivers also say their pay has improved.

But security hasn't. They fear for their lives every time they go out to save one.

Miguel Marquez originally reported this story for today's World News Tonight.