Iraq war’s poisoned legacy

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Dhu al-Hijjah 16, 1433 2012-11-01


by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1433)

The wars unleashed by the US and its allies on Iraq have caused immense damage. By using depleted uranium shells and other munitions, Iraqi soil, air, and water and have been poisoned leading to very high incidents of cancer, the birth of grotesquely deformed babies and other ailments.

Post-Saddam and post-US occupied Iraq continues to suffer from multiple problems inflicted on its hapless people. During the Eid al-Adha holidays, at least 49 people were killed in car bombings and another 63 injured. Such bombings and shootings have increased across Iraq, which many believe are being carried out to undermine the central government in Baghdad.

September was the bloodiest month in Iraq in almost two years with 365 people killed in deadly attacks throughout the country. Most commentators believe Saudi- and Qatari-backed groups linked to the fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi who has been sheltered in Turkey, are responsible for the mayhem. Al-Hashemi was charged with running death squads before he fled the country.

As Nuri al-Maliki’s government grapples with these deadly attacks, there is a more serious disaster afflicting Iraqi families: alarmingly high numbers of birth defects in babies as a result of contamination from radioactive residue from bombs and millions of rounds of ammunition used by American forces in al-Basrah and Fallujah. As early as 2005 — a year after American forces ethnically cleansed the city of Fallujah of 300,000 inhabitants — doctors at the city’s General Hospital had reported deformities in newborn babies. In September 2009, they even asked the UN to investigate why 25% of the 170 babies born there that month had died within seven days and 75% of the dead babies were deformed. Al-Basrah residents have suffered a similar fate. By 2003, birth defects there had gone up to 23 per 1,000 births, a 17-fold increase since 1994.

The US had first used depleted uranium (DU) shells against Iraq in January 1991 in what was referred to as the “First Gulf War.” Not only Iraqis but also American soldiers were contaminated by dust from DU. Mary and Garth Nicholson, a husband and wife team of scientists working at the Houston Medical Science Centre first reported contamination of Iraqi war veterans in March 1993. These were published in Crescent International at the time. The US Defence Department not only dismissed the findings but the Nicholsons were fired from their jobs in Houston. It took many thousands of Iraqi war veterans and their illnesses that ultimately forced the US government to acknowledge the problem.

The impact on Iraqis — men, women and children — breathing poison and swallowing it in their food and water for years has been much greater. In September, Mozhgan Savabieasfahani from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and her team of doctors from Iraq and Iran published the findings of their study in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. This was an expansion of their initial study whose findings she had published in 2010 that found shocking levels of birth defects in the children of Fallujah. Savabieasfahani and her research team attributed the higher incidents of birth defects to the presence of high levels of lead, mercury and other contaminants in the bodies of both parents and their children. A separate study by the University of Ulster had reported in 2010 that increases in congenital birth defects, leukemia and infant mortality in Fallujah were higher than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two Japanese cities attacked by the US with atomic weapons in August 1945.

Savabieasfahani’s research team examined the cases of 56 families from Fallujah General Hospital. They also studied thousands of records at the department of obstetrics and gynecology at al-Basrah’s maternity hospital. What they found was horrifying. In 2000, less than 2% of the babies were born with birth defects. Between 2007 and 2010, this had increased to half of all newborn children babies. Typically, children had swollen heads, missing or deformed limbs, single eyes or protruding bellies. Among children with birth defects, lead levels were five times higher and mercury levels six times higher than for normal children.

While the US and British governments typically rubbish such reports as defective and thereby avoid responsibility, the World Health Organization is studying the cases not only in Fallujah and al-Basrah, but also seven other “high-risk” Iraqi cities. Its report is due this month.

American and British politicians should be charged with war crimes for using banned weapons and inflicting such suffering on innocent people in Iraq and indeed in other parts of the world.

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