BAGHDAD - The images are shocking even by Iraqi standards: two dozen skeletal children, some tied to beds, others writhing in their own waste and some appearing, at first glance, to be dead.
Such was the nightmare that greeted US and Iraqi forces last week when they stumbled upon the al-Hanan orphanage for children with special needs in northwest Baghdad, according to a CBS News report broadcast on Monday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he would investigate and punish those responsible, while the US military said its forces helped to evacuate the orphanage.
"They saw multiple bodies laying on the floor of the facility," Staff Sergeant Mitchell Gibson of the 82nd Airborne Division told CBS News. "They thought they were all dead."
"They threw a basketball to try and get some attention, and actually one of the kids lifted up their head, tilted it over and just looked and then went back down. And they said, 'oh, they're alive'."
Inside the government-run facility the American troops found 24 boys, many showing signs of severe neglect and starvation. Medics initially feared at least one of the boys was dead.
He had "thousands of flies covering his body, unable to move any part of his body, you know we had to actually hold his head up and tilt his head to make sure that he was okay," Gibson said.
"The only thing basically that was moving was his eyeballs," he added. "Flies in the mouth, in the eyes, in the nose, ears, eating all the open wounds from sleeping on the concrete."
The caretakers, by contrast, had well-stocked offices with kitchen shelves packed with food, according to CBS.
US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver said that the children have since been placed in foster care.
According to CBS the caretaker of the facility is on the run and the government has only managed to arrest two security guards from the facility. Two women employees who posed for pictures during the raid have also fled.