Tiny victim is sign of Iraqi suffering

A BABY hangs in agony like a rag doll in her mother's arms - yet distressing scenes like this will continue until more medical aid reaches Iraq, according to hard-pressed army medics.

A BABY hangs in agony like a rag doll in her mother's arms - yet distressing scenes like this will continue until more medical aid reaches Iraq, according to hard-pressed army medics.

Iraqi civilians, whose lives have been torn apart by war, cannot look to the British Army to solve all their problems as limited resources, a scarcity of interpreters and orders to treat only extreme cases of life and death mean a wait for the arrival of aid agencies and the country's own ailing health service to give them proper care.

The tiny girl, who could not have been more than a year old, was suffering from dehydration and diarrhoea when a patrol of paratroops from Colchester-based 3 Battalion The Parachute Regiment scouted her home village of Ben Aghasi, near Amara, central Iraq.

Private Matt Douglas, who serves as the only medic with C Company, 3 Para, said he had treated her two days previously but with no interpreter it was hard to diagnose exactly what was troubling her.

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"She looked like she had diarrhoea and was dehydrated. But that's part of life out here. Today there were a couple of people who spoke better English and I gave her some more water and rehydration salts.

"I try to come out on any patrols that come out this way to check but you've got to be careful. You can only do minor things – you shouldn't get their hopes up. The problem is we're stretched enough.

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"It's hard," added the 28-year-old from Woollerton, Nottinghamshire. "If we got all our medics to help everyone with their problems all our resources would be in one village."

The collection of mud huts at Ben Aghasi cannot have changed greatly since biblical times – and amenities in this rural part of war-hit Iraq have not moved much further forward. Oxen bathed in filthy pools of stagnant water yards away from children who played

Neglect under the regime of Saddam Hussein and a war to rid the country of his terrible influence have combined to create a set of disastrous circumstances for the Shia people of the Maysan province – who share close ties with Iran only 40km away.

Electricity has been cut off after pylons were crumpled during an allied bombing raid at a nearby Iraqi tank positions. Fresh water supplies have been cut off by drainage work for engineering projects under Saddam – and many argue that UN sanctions starved Iraq's health service of drugs, which these poor peasant farmers cannot afford in any case.

The situation, however, is not desperate, insisted Captain Steve Brining, 32, whose civil affairs team is attached to 3 Regiment Army Air Corps.

He is working alongside the Paras as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade's effort to win hearts and minds in the aftermath of the conflict. Restoring supplies of power and fresh drinking water are their priorities.

"Our resources are focused on immediate care for emergencies such as life or limb. We spend as much time in the smaller villages as we do in larger towns," he said.

He added that a medical clinic had not suffered any major damage during the war and Iraqi doctors were still at their posts. This clinic was 25km away.

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