Australian medical professionals have witnessed heartbreak and hope in war-ravaged northern Iraq while delivering much-needed humanitarian relief.
The first personnel to end four-week rotations in field hospitals near the frontline have told of their experiences, including the sorrow of seeing children die and the joy of saving lives.
They are among those working for Canberra-based Aspen Medical on behalf of the World Health Organisation and United Nations.
Melbourne nurse Vesna Courtot said treating children who had lost limbs, sustained burns and spinal injuries was emotionally confronting.
"The environment in Iraq is complicated and tense, with no movement outside the compound," she said.
"We are surrounded by a tall blast wall with no view of the outside world and finding personal space can be challenging."
Ms Courtot said she would always remember an eight-year-old girl who died from injuries after a mortar blast.
"Her small head was wrapped in blood-soaked bandages, her plaited hair peeping through the dressing," Ms Courtot said.
"We stabilised her and transferred her to the ward. As clinicians, we knew the prognosis was not good.
"She died in the early hours of the next morning, with her father praying for a miracle beside her tiny body.
"As we were putting her body in a body bag, her father requested I remove the baubled hair tie from her plaited hair.
"He placed it in his pocket. It was all he had as a memento of his daughter. I remember feeling so overwhelmed by the situation ... she should be tucked away safely in bed, not being zipped up in a cold plastic body bag."
Geelong nurse Taryn Anderson said staff normally worked 12-hour days.
"We have an undercover triage area designed to allow for patient overflow in the event of a mass casualty incident and an outdoor decontamination area to deal with any casualties of chemical warfare," she said.
"We have four trauma bays which can be operational at any time. We have two operating theatres, a four-bed ICU and recovery area and two large wards with 24 beds in each, one male and one female.
"The wards are well equipped but reminiscent of an older style hospital with lots of beds lined up against the walls in one large room."
Ms Anderson said her most heart-warming experience was helping a 19-year-old pregnant woman who had been holed up in a bunker for nearly three weeks.
The woman was shot in the abdomen by a sniper while escaping to reach the hospital.
"Amazingly the bullet had gone through the uterus, but only grazed the left elbow of the child," she said.
"To top it all off the child's bent arm was jutting out and plugging the hole in the uterus. After a few stitches both mum and baby were both healthy and well."
Melissa Kellow from the NSW Central Coast said many children presented with horrific injuries that required amputation.
Ms Kellow praised her Iraqi colleagues.
"The resilience of the people is amazing," she said.
"Everyone who works in the hospital has lost family, friends and lost homes, but they smile, come to work each and every day and are happy to be alive and helping their fellow countrymen as best they can."
Ms Kellow said the language barrier was challenging.
"We are lucky in that we have many educated people who speak English as well as their many dialects and interpreters can be found close by," she said.
"Lots of charades and animation can be seen between expats and Iraqi colleagues, often leading to laughter and friendships.
"This often allows for a few giggles and some team building in the height of an emergency response. Black humour is not limited to the English language."
Aspen Medical now operates two 68-bed field hospitals near Mosul.
Hamam Al Alil Field Hospital opened on April 23, about 25km from frontline fighting.
It provides medical services including triage, screening for new and referred patients from stabilisation points, advanced life support, wound management, basic fracture management and lifesaving surgery.
Aspen Medical co-executive chairman Glenn Keys said a third hospital was in the planning stages.
Mr Keys said he was "very proud" of the company's staff who were working in difficult circumstances.