Hospital bombed as battle rages in Tikrit
Battles have been raging for the last two days after Iraqi troops swooped in by helicopters at the Tikrit University stadium engaged the black-clad gunmen entrenched in the campus in a gunbattle.
Taking Tikrit University is an important step in regaining control of the strategic city. — Photo courtsey: Tikrit University website
The Tikrit Teaching Hospital where 46 Indian nurses are trapped was bombed on Friday during a fierce battle between militants belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and Iraqi troops who have launched a full-scale assault to retake the hometown of slain dictator Saddam Hussein.
The military operation came as top Iraqi cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani urged the country’s leaders to unite, after Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki conceded political measures are needed to defeat the Isil offensive that has killed over 1,000 people and overrun major parts of Iraq’s five provinces.
Battles have been raging for the last two days after Iraqi troops swooped in by helicopters at the Tikrit University stadium engaged the black-clad gunmen entrenched in the campus in a gunbattle. Baghdad says taking the university is an important step in regaining control of Tikrit, for which troops have been deployed in areas around the city.
The nurses have been on a razor’s edge since the hospital compound was bombed on Wednesday night following the downing of a low-flying attack helicopter by the militants.
But this was the first time the hospital building took a direct hit by one of the flying machines after hours of gunbattles that centred around the university compound, which is at a short distance from the teaching hospital where the nurses are lodged.
Chief Minister of the Indian state of Kerala, Oomen Chandy, said New Delhi has already moved a capable officer, Mattan George, from Egypt to Baghdad to coordinate rescue operations, and he is trying to get in touch with him. He said the nurses’ situation has entered an alarming phase, which is a major worry for everyone in the state.
An enraged nurse who called Khaleej Times screamed in despair. She said one of the gunships came at around 4pm and dropped a bomb on the single-storeyed emergency block and flew away. Helicopters came back later and were still flying over the hospital.
She said thick smoke and flames billowed from the building which is luckily at a “short but safe distance” from their living quarters. Every effort by the nurses to send photographs failed as MMS and Internet services were non-functional.
Baghdad claimed the Iraqi Air Force killed 12 Isil gunmen in an air strike in Tikrit. “Iraqi Air Force helicopters launched an air strike on a building where Isil elements were barricaded, killing 12 gunmen,” Ministry of Defence spokesman Maj-Gen. Mohammed Al Askari said.
“Our belief that we would ever be safe inside the hospital has proved to be a myth after the latest bombing,” the nurse said, adding India had a missed a golden chance to evacuate them after the militants offered a safe passage.
“The embassy has been sleeping over the offer for the last few days. Their procrastination is mainly responsible for our present state of affairs,” she said. “When I called the Indian ambassador to brief him about the bombing, he asked back, ‘You tell me what I can do’,” said the nurse from Kottayam in Kerala.
She said if the Red Cross cannot help, India should “approach the UN to take us from this hellhole”.
“Road is not the only way to evacuate us,” she said, referring to reports that Chinese nationals are being evacuated from Iraq’s trouble spots by helicopters.
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