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Hundreds of Wounded Treated on US Navy Hospital Ship

Military doctors on board the U.S. Navy hospital ship - USNS Comfort say they have treated hundreds of people since the beginning of the war in Iraq, and about half are Iraqi civilians or prisoners of war.

Navy Captain Charles Blankenship, the commanding officer of the Comfort, says all patients on board his ship, whether they are coalition soldiers, Iraqi civilians or prisoners captured in combat are given the same level of medical care.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon via satellite phone from his ship in the Persian Gulf, Captain Blankenship says, of the 300 patients currently on board, about half are Iraqi. He says they all get treated in accordance with international conventions governing treatment of civilians and prisoners in wartime. "We are taking care of Iraqi prisoners of war and civilians," he said. "We follow the Geneva Conventions. Patients who are brought to us - it doesn't matter who they are - we take care of everyone who shows up, and they get the same standard of care. In fact, the first casualties that we treated on board were Iraqi enemy prisoners of war."

Recently, about 50 patients a day have been brought to the ship, flown there by helicopter.

The medical staff on the Comfort can treat up to 1,000 patients. The ship is home to more than 60 doctors with a variety of specialties.

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Ramsey Azar was born in Lebanon, and serves as an Arabic translator on board the Comfort.

He says many wounded Iraqis have tragic stories about the war and what life was like during the government of Saddam Hussein. "There are so many interesting stories," he said. "Many are wonderful stories. However, there are some tragic situations; for example, a 12-year-old child coming here for treatment, and certainly her expressing that she has no more family back home; civilians that are being treated on board that were forced to fight. Certainly POW's. I had one situation where an EPOW [enemy prisoner of war] had come on board, and he was convinced that we were going to hurt him on board. As I tried to reassure him that we are here to help him, he just simply broke down and cried."

Hospital officers say many of the patients on board the Comfort are in critical or serious condition.

Nearly 90 percent of all operations are performed because of injuries sustained in combat.

Once a patient's condition stabilizes, Iraqi prisoners are sent to camps on land, while coalition forces are evacuated by air for additional medical care at military bases in Europe and the United States.