Dozens of Indian nurses remain stranded in Iraq's Tikrit
Tikrit Teaching Hospital, where the 46 Indian nurses were hiding was bombed on Friday while Iraqi forces try to recapture the city (File/AFP)
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The Indian nurses stranded in Tikrit were on Saturday abandoned in the thick of civil war as all hospital staff, including doctors, fled a savage battle between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and Iraqi troops to control the key northern Iraqi city.
While the city emptied out in the last three days, a helicopter gunship bombing of the emergency block of the Tikrit Teaching Hospital spread widespread panic, prompting all staff and patients to join the exodus.
“We were told by the fleeing staff that we are on our own from today and can help ourselves in the kitchen,” a nurse told Khaleej Times, adding that three patients were reportedly killed and three cars gutted in Friday’s bombing of the hospital compound. She scoffed at New Delhi’s assertion that there had not been any bombing of the compound, saying “we have the still photo and video evidence”.
“A group of 46 women are now at the mercy of two warring forces. We are told that Tikrit is already a ghost town, and we are kind of prisoners here with no access to news about our own fate,” she said.
“With no power and no generator working, we sat through the eerie dark in sweltering summer heat. Our only companion is the clamour of the war resonating across the compound.”
With helicopter gunships conducting airstrikes before dawn on terrorists attacking troops at Tikrit University campus, which is a short distance from the hospital, the abandoned nurses “have every reason to be pessimistic, especially because “calls from the Indian embassy have died down”.
“Gunbattles and explosions could be heard throughout the night, but they were less intense after the daybreak,” she said.
“We went to the kitchen to find that our very subsistence is now at stake as food stocks have plummeted to almost nil. There are no vegetables except some potatoes and tomatoes. The oil can has run dry. The only item we are left with is a bag of rice which is three-fourth full. How long that will support 46 stomachs is anybody’s guess,” she added.
“The last doctor to leave the hospital was magnanimous enough to send us a cylinder of gas. He also said there will be two boys in the compound in case we need any help,” the nurse said, adding that “thank God the generator is working” on Saturday.
The nurses were furious that the visual media back home is presenting a rosy picture. “They were quoting the embassy staff as saying ‘the nurses are all perfectly fine’ when we actually live inside the jaws of death,” she said.
A lot of people have left over the past 72 hours, fearing random aerial bombardment and possible clashes as the army advances towards the city,” AP quoted a resident as saying. “The few people who remain are afraid of possible revenge acts by militiamen who are accompanying the army. We are peaceful civilians and we do not want to be victims of this struggle.” He confirmed the nurses version that the city has been without power or water since Friday night.