As the international community scrambles to address the mounting crisis of a Sunni-extremist insurgency in Iraq, it’s business as usual in one corner of the war-torn nation.
When militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham overran Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul, nearly half a million people fled the city. Many of them have ended up in Erbil — a province in northern Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan, which has largely escaped the violence and instability gripping the rest of the country.
Doctors at the Emergency Hospital in Erbil have been treating the wounded from Mosul — and Tikrit, Kirkuk and other towns where militants have skirmished with Iraqi security forces in their drive to seize territory. But for them, the influx of patients is standard operating procedure.
"This crisis has been going on for a long time," said Dr. Rawand Hawezy. "For years, this has been a daily issue. It’s not a new thing for us."
Hawezy — director of the Emergency Hospital, which specializes in treating war-related injuries — said that the facility has treated more than 65 people wounded in the fighting since June 6.
He said that around 90 percent of those patients came from outside of Kurdistan — and that doctors are careful not to bring the sectarian politics of the current crisis into the emergency room.
"For the patients who come now, we don’t ask if they are Sunni or Shiite," he said.
One of the patients receiving treatment Tuesday was Sirwan, a 35-year-old member of the Kurdish security forces — known as the Peshmerga — who took multiple bullets when his unit battled militants in Kirkuk.
Ali Taha, a civilian from Mosul whose right leg had been amputated, was recuperating in a bed nearby.
"There was a car bomb near my house," he told NBC News. "When it blew up, my family and I ran."
When a pick-up truck started coming towards him, he said he didn’t think anything of it. But then the truck started firing.
"They fired and fired and fired until the car itself blew up," he said. "They shot at many people. It was mostly women and children who were killed.
"An ambulance from Erbil came and picked us up and brought us to this hospital."
First published June 17 2014, 9:39 AM