MOSUL, Iraq -- When Saddam Hussein, the former tyrannical leader of Iraq, ordered the prisons opened and the inmates freed, Hussain Ali Aga Al-Sulivani, the director of Al-Zawrahi Public Hospital, had to make a decision that could have cost him his life. He could flee for safety or remain with the hospital and try to defend it from looters and guerilla forces. Al-Sulivani chose to stay.
"I was one of the first employees at the hospital when it opened 30 years ago," Al-Sulivani said through an interpreter. "When everything broke down in late March, everyone went home and I was the only one who stayed. Looters attempted to steal everything and I could not stop all of them. Because I have not left for more than 30 days, the medical equipment and supplies are still here," the hospital administrator said.
"Of the seven hospitals in Mosul, Al-Zawrahi Public Hospital was the only one still functioning when we arrived," said Lt. Cmdr. Richard Jadick, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) surgeon.
For coalition forces arriving in Mosul, one of the first priorities was the state of public health. Lt. Col. James Bayley, a U.S. Army reservist and orthopedic surgeon from Worcester, MA, and Jadick led a team of civil affairs' and medical experts to the hospital Thursday to assess the facility's capabilities.
As Bayley and Jadick arrived at the hospital, Al-Sulivani spoke of his serious concern for security.
"I didn't get any rest until the U.S. Army arrived and the soldiers drove the looters out of the surrounding area. Our security is the most important thing so that our doctors and patients can feel safe here," Al-Sulivani told them.
For the Marines in Mosul, one of their primary missions was to reestablish order and security in the city. From foot and vehicular patrols, to the dismantling of illegal checkpoints throughout town and reconstitution of the local police force, U.S. Marines and Special Forces personnel worked hard to provide security that would facilitate the normal functioning of hospitals, schools and critical community services.
Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/8, 26th MEU (SOC) sent two platoons of Marines to briefly provide security for the hospital, in the wake of Al-Sulivani's concerns.
After completing their survey, Bayley and Jadick were told of military vehicles beneath the hospital that were disguised as ambulances. At the end of March, Al-Sulivani explained, Iraqi military personnel arrived at the hospital and parked the vehicles there and later fled. He was afraid they might be booby-trapped with explosives.
"He pulled us aside and said that there was something that we should see in the hospital's parking lot," Jadick said. "When he told us the circumstances through which they were placed there, we informed our military intelligence and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) Marines as soon as we returned and coordinated an immediate EOD ordnance sweep and movement plan," the Bolton, MA native said.
After EOD Marines swept the ambulance for explosives, Bayley and Jadick put together a military convoy with a mechanic and embedded security to retrieve the vehicles.
As the convoy departed, Al-Sulivani thanked them and spoke of a brighter future for Iraq. "The future will be good. Once we take the guns away from the people and can pay workers here again, things will be good and normal again."
For more information on the 26th MEU (SOC) in Iraq, visit them on the web at www.26meu.usmc.mil.