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In West Mosul, American Medical Volunteers Try To Save Lives Near Frontlines


And now to America's other long was in Iraq. In the city of Mosul, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have been trying to drive ISIS out. It's tough fighting in a densely packed city, and there have been hundreds of military and civilian casualties. NPR's Jane Arraf went to west Mosul to visit American medical volunteers trying to save lives near the frontlines.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: There's an Iraqi soldier screaming when I walk into this house in a neighborhood near the airport.


ARRAF: A bullet from an ISIS sniper shattered his arm, and the anesthesia hasn't kicked in yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MEDIC: Do you want more Ketamine for the transfer?

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: A group of doctors and medical staff are gathered around him on one of the tables set up in a peach-colored living room now filled with medical equipment. The rotating team of eight to 10 people are from a nonprofit New York City group called NYC Medics. They're doing trauma stabilization aimed at stopping the bleeding and keeping people breathing until they can get to a hospital.

KATHERINE BEQUARY: We're called an emergency medical team Type 1, which is a mobile medical team. So when we deploy, we have every single thing we need to work in the field independently.

ARRAF: That's Katherine Bequary, the executive director.

BEQUARY: There's gunshot wounds, blast injuries, shrapnel coming from the blasts. There's some crush injuries from buildings falling a bit. And it's across the board - civilian, soldier. We care for everybody - you know, enemy combatants, anybody who needs our assistance.

ARRAF: Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed or wounded in the battle against ISIS, and the fighting is far from over. This group of volunteers normally does disaster relief, but now it's less than two miles from the fighting. And for most of them, this is their first time in a war zone. After a few days here, the sound of mortars and airstrikes doesn't seem to faze them. Dr. Mike Falk specializes in emergency pediatrics.


MIKE FALK: That's a gunship firing rockets and probably 20-millimeter cannons at the ISIS positions inside - in the old city of Mosul.

ARRAF: So did that freak you out even a little bit the first couple of days?

FALK: Yeah, I mean it takes some getting used to. You know, I've never been this close to that sort of stuff. I've sadly had people stick loaded handguns in my face before and been around (laughter) where guns go off because, like, I first got to New York in 1989. And it's a totally different scale of things in conflict.

ARRAF: It's quiet for a bit, and then another vehicle pulls up.

BEQUARY: How many patients do we have? Stay in your teams, please.

ARRAF: Just a few minutes ago, people were hanging out on the lawn, reading books. And then an armored car pulled up, and they sprung into action. They've carried out three people. One of them was bleeding from the face. They were federal police.

LUKMAN ALI: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: Lukman Ali is a police cook. He was dishing out lunch when the mortar hit. He has cuts on his face, and one eye is nearly shut, but he's leaving to return to the front line. He says it's his duty to the Iraqi people. Eunice Allen, a nurse, says they try to maintain the same standards as they would in the United States.

EUNICE ALLEN: We want to give them the same level of care that we give sort of our grandmother, our mother, our cousin, our friends.

ARRAF: Bequary wipes up some of the blood stains from the tile floor. They don't know what happens to most of the patients when they leave, but they're giving them a better chance of surviving. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Mosul, Iraq.

(SOUNDBITE OF RRAREBEAR SONG, "MOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.