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Synopsis

Baghdad Hospital: Inside the Red Zone is the story of Dr. Omer Salih Mahdi, who put himself and his colleagues at risk to film inside Al-Yarmouk hospital, whose emergency room is too dangerous for an American crew. With the documentary's HBO debut, Dr. Mahdi reveals his identity to the world for the first time. Until now, he has remained anonymous to protect himself and his family. Dr. Mahdi's face is not revealed in the film and an actor has recorded his words.

Given permission by hospital authorities to use a hand-held camera inside the emergency room, Dr. Mahdi reveals some of the horrific injuries sustained by Iraqi men, women and children, and exposes the substandard conditions, low morale and danger that its doctors and nurses endure on a daily basis.

Like the American GIs in HBO's acclaimed 2006 documentary "Baghdad ER," many of the people hospitalized in this film are victims of gunfire or improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Here, however, the victims are Iraqi civilians caught in the crossfire of the ongoing sectarian violence between Iraqi Shiites, whose military forces control the area, and Sunni insurgents linked to Al-Qaeda.

Life inside the hospital is dangerous: Gunshots frequently ring out inside the ER, and insurgent militia fighters often storming its doors. Doctors are targets partly because, as one puts it, "We'll treat anyone: Shiite, Sunni, whoever." But it's much more treacherous for those working outside. Ambulances are sometimes shot at and ambulance workers have been killed, either mistakenly by Americans or deliberately by extremists. Ambulance attendant A'amer Salih dryly explains that the idea of Shiites hating Sunnis is ludicrous, observing, "We're all brothers here...Sunnis and Shiites together...We eat together, we talk together, we play jokes on each other."

Among the causalities seen in the graphic and often heartbreaking footage: a young women who was engulfed in flames by a car bomb while on her way to buy bread; a seven-year-old boy injured while playing outside with several friends, who were killed; a six-year-old boy, wounded by the shrapnel in a bomb that killed his father and brother, who receives no anaesthetic because supplies have run out; and a bloodied Shia woman being transported in an ambulance shrieking for the return of Saddam Hussein, because "nothing could be worse than this."

Dr. Ali Adbul Wahed, a surgeon and one of the few hospital staff members to allow his face and name to be used in the film, describes his experiences in the ER and on ambulance trips to pick up victims, saying, "Whoever is on duty, if they don't have to deal with an explosion or a shooting, we say that they're not really living the real Al-Yarmouk."

The producer of Baghdad Hospital: Inside the Red Zone is Ben Summers; executive producer, Bob Long; series producer for BBC, Louise Norman; editor, Karen O'Connor; film editor, Scott McEwing; production executive, Jacqui Timberlake; original music, Steve Hamilton.

Surgeon washes hands

Baghdad Hospital: Inside the Red Zone