The Czech field hospital for Iraq gets 'green light'

On Tuesday Czech parliament approved the deployment of the Czech Republic's 7th field hospital to Iraq. Parliament also agreed that the Czech chemical unit based in Kuwait over the last year will now be able to enter the country in defence of non-combat troops. The two proposals were passed smoothly by the government coalition, together with opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrat support. Only the Communists voted against.

After a fierce debate on a plan to send a field hospital to Iraq Czech parliament finally expressed its approval this week. The Communists were the only ones to disagree, demanding detailed information on the costs of the mission. They proposed the Czech Republic provide only humanitarian aid in co-operation with international organisations, under a UN mandate. They say that sending the hospital, without UN support, represents an illegal step. Senior Communist MP Vojtech Filip:

"The Czech government, along with its field hospital, has increased the number of soldiers in the region, essentially escalating the conflict. In my view the government has now backed the US, which is a decision that is in conflict with the government's earlier resolution, that called for Security Council support in this kind of action."

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, however, rejects the communists' standpoint. During proceedings he said that sending the hospital would be the action of a sovereign state aimed at providing humanitarian aid. He says it cannot be considered part of the US-led military operation 'Iraqi Freedom', which brought down Saddam Hussein.

Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik, photo: CTK
"I was not surprised by the Communists' arguments, although I was saddened because they chose a formal standpoint ahead of 'real life'. In effect every word they expressed would mean the death of an individual, if applied according to their expectations."

The Czech Republic already has experience with sending military hospitals to war-stricken areas - in the past Czech doctors provided medical care in the Balkans as well as Afghanistan. This time, the military field hospital will be based in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. Under the Defence Ministry's plan, part of the 250-strong contingent will leave for Iraq on Thursday to begin working 24 hours later, once the actual hospital arrives. The Czech units will not only provide medical care but also deploy 30 water treatment devices to alleviate the disastrous lack of drinking water in the region. Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said no special unit would be needed for the defence of the hospital, but that security measures would be provided by military police and other soldiers already stationed in Kuwait.

Authors: Jan Velinger , Marta Hudoušková
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