Toxic Legacy of US Assault on Fallujah 'Worse Than Hiroshima'

Published on
by
The Independent/UK

Toxic Legacy of US Assault on Fallujah 'Worse Than Hiroshima'

The shocking rates of infant mortality and cancer in Iraqi city raise new questions about battle

by
Patrick Cockburn

Children in Fallujah who suffer from birth defects which are thought to be linked to weapons used in attacks on the city by US Marines. (Getty images)

Dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and
leukaemia in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was bombarded by US
Marines in 2004, exceed those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs
that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, according to a new
study.

Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since
2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth
defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the
lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they
did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.

Their
claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in
all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s.
Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in
neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.

Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the
University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800
individuals in Fallujah, said it is difficult to pin down the exact
cause of the cancers and birth defects. He added that "to produce an
effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred
in 2004 when the attacks happened".

US Marines
first besieged and bombarded Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, in
April 2004 after four employees of the American security company
Blackwater were killed and their bodies burned. After an eight-month
stand-off, the Marines stormed the city in November using artillery and
aerial bombing against rebel positions. US forces later admitted that
they had employed white phosphorus as well as other munitions.

In
the assault US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone
to try to reduce casualties among their own troops. British officers
were appalled by the lack of concern for civilian casualties. "During
preparatory operations in the November 2004 Fallujah clearance
operation, on one night over 40 155mm artillery rounds were fired into a
small sector of the city," recalled Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a
British commander serving with the American forces in Baghdad.

He
added that the US commander who ordered this devastating use of
firepower did not consider it significant enough to mention it in his
daily report to the US general in command. Dr Busby says that while he
cannot identify the type of armaments used by the Marines, the extent of
genetic damage suffered by inhabitants suggests the use of uranium in
some form. He said: "My guess is that they used a new weapon against
buildings to break through walls and kill those inside."

The
survey was carried out by a team of 11 researchers in January and
February this year who visited 711 houses in Fallujah. A questionnaire
was filled in by householders giving details of cancers, birth outcomes
and infant mortality. Hitherto the Iraqi government has been loath to
respond to complaints from civilians about damage to their health during
military operations.

Researchers were initially
regarded with some suspicion by locals, particularly after a Baghdad
television station broadcast a report saying a survey was being carried
out by terrorists and anybody conducting it or answering questions would
be arrested. Those organising the survey subsequently arranged to be
accompanied by a person of standing in the community to allay
suspicions.

The study, entitled "Cancer, Infant
Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009", is by Dr
Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, and concludes that anecdotal
evidence of a sharp rise in cancer and congenital birth defects is
correct. Infant mortality was found to be 80 per 1,000 births compared
to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait. The report says that the
types of cancer are "similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who
were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium in the
fallout".

Researchers found a 38-fold increase
in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer and
significant increases in lymphoma and brain tumours in adults. At
Hiroshima survivors showed a 17-fold increase in leukaemia, but in
Fallujah Dr Busby says what is striking is not only the greater
prevalence of cancer but the speed with which it was affecting people.

Of
particular significance was the finding that the sex ratio between
newborn boys and girls had changed. In a normal population this is 1,050
boys born to 1,000 girls, but for those born from 2005 there was an 18
per cent drop in male births, so the ratio was 850 males to 1,000
females. The sex-ratio is an indicator of genetic damage that affects
boys more than girls. A similar change in the sex-ratio was discovered
after Hiroshima.

The US cut back on its use of
firepower in Iraq from 2007 because of the anger it provoked among
civilians. But at the same time there has been a decline in healthcare
and sanitary conditions in Iraq since 2003. The impact of war on
civilians was more severe in Fallujah than anywhere else in Iraq because
the city continued to be blockaded and cut off from the rest of the
country long after 2004. War damage was only slowly repaired and people
from the city were frightened to go to hospitals in Baghdad because of
military checkpoints on the road into the capital.

 

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