BASRA, Iraq – On normal days, Basra Teaching Hospital has scores of physicians to handle its workload. Wednesday, however, was anything but normal: Patients with anguishing war wounds filled the beds, but many of the doctors were staying home to protect their families from looters.
Basra's flagship medical facility, one of three in this southern Iraqi city seized by the British in recent days, is strapped. Its doctors are struggling to make do with lack of manpower and are treating war casualties as best they can.
Here, as in many hospitals in both peacetime and war, there is pain and deep emotion. But there is rage, too -- at British forces, who some say were ill-prepared to deal with the consequences of their invasion.
"We thought when they entered the city, they would prepare an administration to take control," said Dr. Janan Peter al-Sabah, the hospital's chief of surgery.
"We don't need food or water. What we lack is safety and protection. Our message to the coalition troops is to take responsibility for the security of the people, of the homes, of the facilities."
As the doctor spoke Wednesday, a calm hung over Basra, Iraq's second biggest city -- in stark contrast to Baghdad, where residents flooded the streets to cheer U.S. troops seizing new parts of the city and celebrate what they believed to be the end of Saddam Hussein's regime.
There were some street celebrations in Basra late Wednesday. In the evening, groups of young men listening to the news from Baghdad on the radio began dancing and running down the streets, chanting songs and pumping their arms in the air, according to a reporter from Britain's Western Daily Press at the scene.
But mainly the mood was more somber in the southern city, which has seen two days of civil disorder -- crowds looting government buildings of anything they could carry -- that followed two weeks of fierce fighting that ended with British coalition forces taking control of the city.
On Wednesday, while looting broke out in Baghdad to the north, shops in Basra were shuttered and abandoned. Telephone service was gone. Streets were largely empty, save the small throngs that surrounded British tankers passing out water, a valuable commodity since a power outage last week cut off the water supply.
British forces in Basra are in the midst of shifting from combat to "security and stability operations," said Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, a U.S. Central Command spokesman.
"We've come as war fighters, and now we're very much into the peacemaking business," said Group Capt. Al Lockwood, a spokesman for British forces.
A few stragglers picked through the remnants of thoroughly looted areas. The Sheraton hotel, mobbed with scavengers in recent days, was empty of plunder. City Hall, damaged by a British bombardment, was still attracting a few treasure hunters who scurried off with everything from plastic pails to canned vegetables.
At the hospital, 200 people have died and 750 wounded have been treated in the past three weeks. On Wednesday, just 50 of 150 doctors showed up for work.
A few days ago, gunmen stormed the hospital and left with a car and some medical equipment. In response, the British brought in some forces and deployed snipers atop nearby buildings, but doctors say it's not enough.
Wounded patients and their families, meanwhile, are hurting -- and angry at the invading forces.
"They harmed us without any cause. We do nothing to them. We have done nothing to deserve this treatment," said Abdizahar Zidane, 46, a government clerk. Nearby, his year-old grandson sat wrapped in gauze, suffering from head and abdomen injuries.
"Many families like ours have been destroyed because of the aggressive military forces," Zidane said.
Dr. Mohammed Jassim, another physician, recalled the heaviest bombardments last week -- 80 wounded arriving at the same time with serious injuries.
"This is not the only hospital to see this," he said. "We were working day and night."
Though no doctor will say as much, it's not difficult to detect the undercurrent of anger on the part of the hospital staff, who have had to deal with the direct human cost of the British military action.
The director of the hospital wasn't there Wednesday; he was with his family, which lost 10 people last weekend to incoming British bombardments.
Abdul Hassan, 28, was brought to Basra Teaching Hospital by his family from Nasiriyah, just northwest of here.
On Wednesday, he was breathing through a tube. His head was swathed in gauze, his body nude except for an orange towel over his private parts. What was left of both his legs were wrapped in gauze, too.
"We can't do anything against the military," said Hassan's cousin, who refused to give his name. "We are very angry. We are innocent people."