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Originally published Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Siege mentality at Baghdad hospital

Inside the low-slung, brown stucco building that is the al-Rashad psychiatric teaching hospital in a Baghdad neighborhood of the same name...

McClatchy Newspapers

Developments in Iraq

Rockets kill GI: For the second day in a row, insurgents fired rockets at U.S. military facilities in Baghdad, killing at least one U.S. soldier. As of Tuesday at least 3,963 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war, according to The Associated Press.

Iraqi soldiers killed: Iraqi police said seven Iraqi soldiers died and a dozen were injured later when they found a truck that had been used in the attack and attempted to defuse unfired rockets, which exploded.

Officials on trial: The trial of two former Iraqi officials accused of letting Shiite militiamen use ambulances and hospitals to kidnap and kill rivals was delayed Tuesday because prosecution witnesses failed to show up. Former Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili and Brig. Gen. Hameed al-Shimmari, are accused of having ties to the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Seattle Times news services

BAGHDAD — Inside the low-slung, brown stucco building that is the al-Rashad psychiatric teaching hospital in a Baghdad neighborhood of the same name, employees wonder what will happen next.

Already they've seen an administrator resign after his son was kidnapped. In December, the hospital's director was gunned down. Then, 10 days ago, U.S. troops arrested the acting director on the suspicion that he supplied female mental patients to insurgents to become suicide bombers.

A siege mentality has set in among the eight doctors and nearly 20 staff members at the hospital, which treats about 1,200 mental patients and is one of only two institutions of its kind in Iraq.

The siege of the al-Rashad hospital began after a pair of suicide bombings in Baghdad pet markets killed 99 people Feb. 1. Within hours, Iraqi authorities said the bombers had Down syndrome, based on photographs of their detached heads.

Since then, a U.S. military official said the women had been seen at either the al-Rashad hospital or the Ibn Rushad psychiatric hospital, according to their medical histories, and were treated for bouts of depression and schizophrenia.

Al-Rashad's acting director, Dr. Sahi Aboub, was detained Feb. 10 for his alleged role in helping to set up the attacks. Hospital workers say coalition forces spent several hours searching his offices and took the contents of several filing cabinets.

Al-Rashad staff members said the allegations that Aboub provided mentally disturbed patients to al-Qaida in Iraq are without merit.

First, they said, the hospital doesn't treat the mentally disabled or those with severe mental impairments.

Second, they said that the hospital is controlled by forces loyal to Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and that Aboub is a Shiite who's unlikely to be in league with a Sunni extremist group such as al-Qaida in Iraq.

Doctors also said that Aboub has no background in psychiatry and that, unlike those already on staff, he had no say in when patients would check in or out of the hospital.

"He's not crazy enough to risk his life and job by cooperating with al-Qaida," one doctor said.

There also are questions about how long Aboub has been working at the hospital. A document that U.S. forces left at the hospital said he'd been involved in selecting possible suicide bombers since Jan. 1.

But health-ministry documents that hospital workers provided to McClatchy show that Aboub didn't start work at the hospital until Jan. 13.

U.S. military officials declined to comment, saying their investigation is ongoing.

On Tuesday, the Iraqi Interior Ministry ordered police to round up beggars, vagabonds and mentally disabled people from the streets of Baghdad to prevent them from being used by insurgents as suicide bombers, a spokesman said.

The people detained in the Baghdad sweep will be handed over to governmental institutions that can provide shelter and care for them, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said.

Khalaf was not more specific about how those taken into custody would be selected.

Additional information from The Associated Press

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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