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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > Iraq: The Victims of Fallujah’s Health Crisis are Stifled by Western (...)

Iraq: The Victims of Fallujah’s Health Crisis are Stifled by Western Silence

Monday 5 November 2012, by siawi3

To research a possible link between US
bombardment and rates of birth defects and
pediatric cancer in Iraq is a moral imperative

By Ross Caputi
Guardian (UK)
October 25, 2012


Four new studies on the health crisis in Fallujah
have been published in the last three months. Yet,
one of the most severe public health crises in
history, for which the US military may be to blame,
receives no attention in the United States.

Ever since two major US-led assaults destroyed the
Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004, Fallujans have
witnessed dramatic increases in rates of cancers,
birth defects and infant mortality in their city. Dr
Chris Busby, the author and co-author of two
studies on the Fallujah heath crisis, has called this
"the highest rate of genetic damage in any
population ever studied".

In the years since the 2004 sieges, Fallujah was the
most heavily guarded city in all of Iraq. All
movement in and out of Fallujah was monitored by
the occupying forces. The security situation made it
nearly impossible to get word out about Fallujans’
nascent health crisis. One of the first attempts to
report on the crisis was at the seventh session of the
UN Human Rights Council in the form of the report,
Prohibited Weapons Crisis: The Effects of Pollution
on the Public Health in Fallujah by Dr Muhamad Al-
Darraji. This report was largely ignored. It wasn’t
until the first major study on the health crisis was
published in 2010 that the issue received
mainstream media attention in the UK and Europe.

To this day, though, there has yet to be an article
published in a major US newspaper, or a moment
on a mainstream American TV news network,
devoted to the health crisis in Fallujah. The US
government has made no statements on the issue,
and the American public remains largely
uninformed about the indiscriminate harm that our
military may have caused.

The report presented at the seventh session of the
Human Rights Council gave anecdotal evidence
gathered at the Fallujah General Hospital. It
included a stomach-turning collection of pictures of
babies born with scaly skin, missing and deformed
limbs, and horrifying tumors. Two years later, Dr
Busby and his team of researchers sought to verify
the claims in this report. What they found was that,
in addition to shocking increases in pediatric
cancers, there had also been an 18% reduction in
male births. Such a finding is a well-known
indication of genetic damage. The authors conclude

"These results support the many reports of
congenital illness and birth defects in Fallujah
and suggest that there is evidence of genetic
stress which appeared around 2004, one year
before the effects began to show."

In a follow up study, in which Dr Busby was a co-
author, hair, soil and water samples were taken
from Fallujah and tested for the presence of heavy
metals. The researchers expected to find depleted
uranium in the environmental samples. It is well
known that the US used depleted uranium weapons
in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf war; and Iraqis, at
least, are well aware of the increases in cancers and
infant mortality rates in the city of Basrah, which
was heavily bombarded during Desert Storm.
However, what the researchers found was not
depleted uranium, but man-made, slightly enriched

Dr Busby has been the most visible scientist behind
these studies, and for that reason, a lot of criticism
has been directed at him. He is considered by many
to be a “controversial” figure, which only means that
his research has often challenged official
government positions. His studies on Fallujah have
similarly earned the title of “controversial”. Many
journals were afraid to publish his second study
because of “pressure” from “outside people”.
“Outside people” means types like Roger Helbig - a
retired Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force who
is well-known for publishing online attacks on those
who take a critical stance against uranium weapons
- and pressure groups with similar agendas.

Some have criticized the methodology of this study,
and they have used this as an excuse to dismiss the
entire issue. But as other experts have noted:

"The role of ’quick and dirty’ studies like this one,
conducted under difficult conditions, is not to
inform policy, but rather to generate hypotheses
about important questions when resources are
not yet available and other research methods are
not possible.“Busby is not the only researcher who takes”controversial" positions. His findings are
complimented by the work of Dr Dai Williams, an
independent weapons researcher. Williams has been
investigating what he calls "third generation
uranium weapons" (pdf). He has found patents for
weapon systems that could use undepleted
uranium, or slightly enriched uranium,
interchangeably with tungsten, either as a dense
metal or as a reactive metal. Undepleted and slightly
enriched uranium have also been found on other
battlefields (Afghanistan (pdf) and Lebanon). These
findings lead researchers like Dr Williams to believe
that there is a new generation of weapons being
used, possibly by the US and Israeli militaries, that
could have serious indiscriminate health effects on
the populations living near bombing targets.

Many people have dismissed these hypotheses as
speculative, and with that, they dismiss the
research, the issue and the suffering of the people
on the ground. What these naysayers fail to
understand is that hypotheses are always
speculative to a degree - they are informed, but they
are claims intended to be verified or falsified. This is
the nature of the scientific method. First, you
observe certain phenomena in the world, then you
come up with a hypothesis to explain those
phenomena. Then, you conduct an experiment to
test your hypothesis.

Many of these naysayers have not responded to
these studies by calling for more research and
investigation to test the hypotheses of Dr Busby or
Dr Williams. Rather, they dismiss these hypotheses
because they don’t like their moral and political
implications. In doing so, they show a great deal of
antipathy for the scientific method and the pursuit
of truth. But more importantly, they also dismiss the
suffering of the people of Fallujah, and all people
affected by these issues.

One weapon system that may use uranium, in some
form or another, is the SMAW-NE (Shoulder-fired
Multipurpose Assault Weapon - Novel Explosive).
My former unit battle-tested this weapon for the first
time in Fallujah during Operation Phantom Fury in
2004. It is not my intention irresponsibly to lay
blame on the US military, but there is a potential
connection between this weapons system and the
health crisis in Fallujah - and this connection
needs to be investigated.

There are also other avenues of investigation
besides uranium weapons. One recent study
examines the possible contributions of mercury and
lead to the health crisis in Iraq. Metal
Contamination and the Epidemic of Congenital
Defects in Iraqi Cities, by Al-Sabbak et al, compared
the levels of lead and mercury in hair, nail and teeth
samples from Fallujah and Basrah. The study found
that the population studied in Fallujah had been
exposed to high levels of "two well-known
neurotoxic metals, Pb and Hg".

In Basrah, the authors found even higher levels of
lead exposure than in Fallujah. Basrah has the
highest ever reported level of neural tube defects,
and the numbers continue to climb. The authors of
this study note:

"Toxic metals such as mercury (Hg) and Pb are an
integral part of war ammunitions and are
extensively used in the making of bullets and
bombs . the bombardment of al-Basrah and
Fallujah may have exacerbated public exposure
to metals, possibly culminating in the current
epidemic of birth defects."

The conclusion of this study is not abstract, and it
is not merely an intellectual or medical issue. It has
real world importance. The modern means of
warfare may be inherently indiscriminate. This is a
scientific finding worthy of discussion at the highest
levels of academia, politics and international affairs.
While it may yet get some attention outside the
borders of the United States, its “controversial”
nature (its implications of the US military’s guilt in
creating possibly the worst public health crisis in
history) ensures that it will be ignored at all costs by
the callous and corrupt US government and its
subservient media establishment.

Ultimately, it may not be the case that either lead
alone, or uranium alone, is the sole cause of the
health crisis in Fallujah. It could be a combination
of the two agents, or something different entirely.
But this is an empirical question that demands
further investigation. Methodology and proper
science are important, but we must remember that
science is a means to an end, and not an end in and
of itself. The welfare of the people of Fallujah should
be our ends, and our goal should be to help them.
Those who choose misguided political allegiance
over the pursuit of truth, and those who use
methodological flaws to dismiss real-world suffering,
have already lost their humanity.

What we need to do to help Fallujans is clear. More
studies need to be done to figure out what is
harming those poor children, and then steps need to
be taken to ensure that this never happens again.
But first, we must find a way to overcome the stifling
silence of governments.

Severe Birth Defects Soar in Post-War Iraq

By Julia Kallas
Inter Press Service | Interview
October 28, 2012


A new study confirms what many Iraqi doctors have
been saying for years - that there is a virtual
epidemic of rare congenital birth defects in cities
that suffered bombing and artillery and small arms
fire in the U.S.-led attacks and occupations of the

The hardest hit appear to be Fallujah (2004), a city
in central Iraq, and Basra in the south (December
1998, March and April 2003).

Records show that the total number of birth defects
observed by medical staff at Al Basrah Maternity
Hospital more than doubled between 2003 and
2009. In Fallujah, between 2007 and 2010, more
than half the children born there had some form of
birth defect, compared to less than two percent in

Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, a lead author of the
latest study published in the Bulletin of
Environmental Contamination and Toxicology,
entitled "Metal Contamination and the Epidemic of
Congenital Birth Defects in Iraqi Cities," reports that
in the case study of 56 Fallujah families, metal
analysis of hair samples indicated contamination
with two well-known neurotoxic metals: lead and

IPS correspondent Julia Kallas spoke with
Savabieasfahani about Iraq’s health crisis and the
long-term consequences of exposure to metals
released by bombs and munitions.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: You focused on Fallujah and Al Basra. Is there
any indication that this problem could be affecting
other Iraqi cities as well?

A: There is one other paper that has come out from
another city and I think that there are similar
things. I think that it is possible that anywhere
could be affected. Some other places are seeing
similar situations but there are no publications to
indicate it. There is a great possibility that other
places that have been bombed are also showing
similar things.

Q: Your study found serious deformities in infants
as late as 2010. How many years will the health
effects of the war continue to be felt?

A: Speaking as an environmental toxicologist, I
think that a long as the environment is not cleaned,
as long as the source of this public contamination is
not found and as long as people are exposed to it
periodically on a daily basis, I think this problem
will persist.

And what we can see is that they are actually
increasing. I think that the best step right now is to
do large-scale environmental testing - test water,
air, food, soil, everything that comes in touch with
people. Test them for the presence of toxic metals
and other things that are in the environment. And
once we find the source, then we can clean it up.
Unless we do that, this is going to continue to
happen because people are getting exposed.

Q: What kind of munitions would be responsible for
this type of large-scale contamination?

A: We have referenced a couple of U.S. military
documents and it is the kind of things that could
lead to this version of metal as indicated in the
references. Various metals are contained in small
arms ammunition.

But it could be anything from bombardments, from
the bombs that come down on the place, or bombs
that exploded from the tanks, or even bullets. They
all have similar metals in them, including mercury
and lead poisoning, which is what we have found in
the bodies of the people who live in these cities,
Fallujah and Basra.

Q: Have you collaborated at all with the World
Health Organisation researchers who are conducting
similar research, with their findings due out next

A: No, I have not been in touch with the World
Health Organisation or any other organisation. We
have just worked with a collection of scientists.

Q: Are you aware of any formal reaction to your
research by the Iraqi, U.S. or UK governments?

A: There has been some. The U.S. Defense
Department responded to the report by saying that
they do not know of any official reports that indicate
any problems in Al Basrah or Fallujah. But I think
that is the only thing that comes to my mind.

Q: How is the local health care system coping with
an emergency like this? And how can contamination
management and medical care procedures be
provided in these areas?

A: I know that the hospitals in the two cities that we
studied are overstretched and as far as that is a
concern there are ways to help these hospitals. We
need to organise doctors, scientists and people who
are professionals in this area to help clean up.
Organise them, bring them to these two cities and
get them to start working. However, all of that
requires financial and other kinds of support.
Financial and political support together will help to
make that happen.