'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Birth Defects of Fallujah 

As I discussed in a post from July 2010, this is one of those successes of the US invasion and occupation that you don't hear publicized here very much. A doctor in Fallujah believes that a proliferation of children born with shocking birth defects is related to the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons in Fallujah in 2004:

Dr Samira Alani, a paediatric specialist at Fallujah General Hospital, has taken a personal interest in investigating an explosion of congenital abnormalities that have mushroomed in the wake of the US sieges since 2005.

We have all kinds of defects now, ranging from congenital heart disease to severe physical abnormalities, both in numbers you cannot imagine, Alani told Al Jazeera at her office in the hospital, while showing countless photos of shocking birth defects.

As of December 21, Alani, who has worked at the hospital since 1997, told Al Jazeera she had personally logged 677 cases of birth defects since October 2009. Just eight days later when Al Jazeera visited the city on December 29, that number had already risen to 699.

There are not even medical terms to describe some of these conditions because we've never seen them until now, she said. So when I describe it all I can do is describe the physical defects, but I'm unable to provide a medical term.

Most of these babies in Fallujah die within 20 to 30 minutes after being born, but not all.

Four-year-old Abdul Jaleel Mohammed was born in October 2007. His clinical diagnosis includes dilation of two heart ventricles, and a growth on his lower back that doctors have not been able to remove.

Abdul has trouble controlling his muscles, struggles to walk, cannot control his bladder, and weakens easily. Doctors told his father, Mohamed Jaleel Abdul Rahim, that his son has severe nervous system problems, and could develop fluid build-up in his brain as he ages, which could prove fatal.

This is the first instance of something like this in all our family? Rahim told Al Jazeera. We lived in an area that was heavily bombed by the Americans in 2004, and a missile landed right in front of our home. What else could cause these health problems besides this?

Dr Alani told Al Jazeera that in the vast majority of cases she has documented, the family had no prior history of ongenital abnormalities.

Alani showed Al Jazeera hundreds of photos of babies born with cleft palates, elongated heads, a baby born with one eye in the centre of its face, overgrown limbs, short limbs, and malformed ears, noses and spines.

Of course, as noted in the Al Jazeera article, there may be such clusters of birth defects to varying degrees elsewhere in Iraq as well, because the US did not limit the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons to Fallujah. Furthermore, according to Dr. Sharif al-Alwachi, cancer rates have escalated substantially in Babil Province in southern Iraq. Another doctor measured radiation rates in Basra and Kerbala, and the indicator on the Geiger counter went beyond the range. It is impossible to know the severity of the problem because of a lack of doctors and researchers available to conduct a comprehensive investigation, but 42 sites with high levels of nuclear radiation and dioxin contamination have been identified by the Iraqi government:

Southern Iraq, especially Basra, have been adversely affected by such contamination:

The environment minister, Narmin Othman, said high levels of dioxins on agricultural lands in southern Iraq, in particular, were increasingly thought to be a key factor in a general decline in the health of people living in the poorest parts of the country.

If we look at Basra, there are some heavily polluted areas there and there are many factors contributing to it, ­she told the Guardian. First, it has been a battlefield for two wars, the Gulf war and the Iran-Iraq war, where many kinds of bombs were used. Also, oil pipelines were bombed and most of the contamination settled in and around Basra.

The soil has ended up in people's lungs and has been on food that people have eaten. Dioxins have been very high in those areas. All of this has caused systemic problems on a very large scale for both ecology and overall health.

Unfortunately, the Guardian article does not explain the potential sources for the dioxin contamination, but, in regard to radiation, one one can reasonbly conclude that it probable that many parts of Iraq have experienced levels of radiation exposure and contamination substantially in excess what is known about Japan after the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdowns. And, it is important to recognize that the US did not first commence to subject Iraq to radiation contamination in 2003 as explained in this 2002 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article:

On the Highway of Death, 11 miles north of the Kuwait border, a collection of tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles are rusting in the desert.

They also are radiating nuclear energy.

In 1991, the United States and its Persian Gulf War allies blasted the vehicles with armor-piercing shells made of depleted uranium -- the first time such weapons had been used in warfare -- as the Iraqis retreated from Kuwait. The devastating results gave the highway its name.

Today, nearly 12 years after the use of the super-tough weapons was credited with bringing the war to a swift conclusion, the battlefield remains a radioactive toxic wasteland -- and depleted uranium munitions remain a mystery.

Although the Pentagon has sent mixed signals about the effects of depleted uranium, Iraqi doctors believe that it is responsible for a significant increase in cancer and birth defects in the region. Many researchers outside Iraq, and several U.S. veterans organizations, agree; they also suspect depleted uranium of playing a role in Gulf War Syndrome, the still-unexplained malady that has plagued hundreds of thousands of Gulf War veterans.

While the US military denies it, retired Major Doug Rokke believes that the use of depleted uranium during the 1991 Gulf War was responsible for subsequent cancer clusters in the Basra area:

Major Doug Rokke, now retired, was in charge of cleaning up American tanks hit by DU during the Gulf War—casualties of friendly fire. He said the DU dust got blown far away by the wind and entered the soil and water supply. Dr. Rokke, who holds a Ph.D. in physics, said many of the men in his cleanup crew developed the same kinds of cancers seen among Iraqi children.

The first member of our staff to develop cancer was sleeping downwind from where we collected the contaminated equipment, he said. This was in Saudi Arabia. He developed cancer of the larynx and throat within nine months. He was breathing in the dust, which we know goes tremendous distances. The first lung cancers were within two years and the first deaths were fairly rapid.

When DU hits a hard target, it creates a small, radioactive fireball.

Dr. Rokke believes depleted uranium poses a particular danger for children because their young bodies are more vulnerable. DU is both radioactive and a toxic, heavy metal. Children who breathe or eat even a small amount can be affected. He said using depleted uranium in Iraq may well cause serious health problems in years to come.

Andrew Kershaw of The Independent graphically described the horrific birth defects of the children in Basra in 2001:

I thought I had a strong stomach - toughened by the minefields and foul frontline hospitals of Angola, by the handiwork of the death squads in Haiti and by the wholesale butchery of Rwanda. But I nearly lost my breakfast last week at the Basrah Maternity and Children's Hospital in southern Iraq.

Dr Amer, the hospital's director, had invited me into a room in which were displayed colour photographs of what, in cold medical language, are called congenital anomalies, but what you and I would better understand as horrific birth deformities. The images of these babies were head-spinningly grotesque and thank God they didn't bring out the real thing, pickled in formaldehyde. At one point I had to grab hold of the back of a chair to support my legs.

I won't spare you the details. You should know because - according to the Iraqis and in all likelihood the World Health Organisation, which is soon to publish its findings on the spiralling birth defects in southern Iraq - we are responsible for these obscenities.

During the Gulf war, Britain and the United States pounded the city and its surroundings with 96,000 depleted-uranium shells. The wretched creatures in the photographs for they were scarcely human are the result, Dr Amer said.

He guided me past pictures of children born without eyes, without brains. Another had arrived in the world with only half a head, nothing above the eyes. Then there was a head with legs, babies without genitalia, a little girl born with her brain outside her skull and the whatever-it-was whose eyes were below the level of its nose.

Then the chair-grabbing moment - a photograph of what I can only describe (inadequately) as a pair of buttocks with a face and two amphibian arms. Mercifully, none of these babies survived for long.

For those born without such defects, Kershaw discovered that there was a dramatic increase in leukemia, and a lack of medication to treat them. If they did not die for lack of the medication, they subsequent died when they ran out of it.

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