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Worse Than Imagined: Consequences of the Iraq War

In 2003, several weeks before the start of the Iraq war, I wrote an article on the impending war in which I warned against the terrible humanitarian consequences that a war against that country would unleash. I never imagined that they would be much worse than the nightmarish scenario that I painted in my article.

A recent article by Drs. Busby, Hamdan and Ariabi in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health describes the consequences on the civilian population of the coalition forces’ attack on Fallujah in 2004. Their conclusions are based on a study they conducted in January and February of 2010, in which a team of researchers visited 711 houses in Fallujah and obtained responses to a questionnaire in Arabic on cancer, birth defects and infant mortality.

Among their findings are dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukemia years after the attack on that city. The infant mortality rate was 80 per 1,000 live births, more than 4 times the rate in Egypt and in Jordan, and some 9 times the rate in Kuwait. After 2009, the infant mortality rate increased even more markedly, to 136 deaths for 1,000 live births.

Already in 2005, Iraqi doctors in Fallujah stated that they were being overwhelmed by the number of babies born with serious defects, and they also reported on the high number of cancer and miscarriages suffered by the city’s population. The rate of babies born with heart defects is said to be 13 higher those born in Europe.

Professor Chris Busby, an expert in the effects of radiation on humans said that uranium particles can alter the DNA of sperm and eggs from contaminated adults and cause a multitude of birth defects in any baby they conceive. A doctor in Fallujah quoted by Inter Press Service stated, “I can say all kinds of toxic pollution took place in Fallujah after the November 2004 massacre.”

The U.S. military, which at first denied it had used white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon in Fallujah, later retracted that denial and admitted using it. However, the Pentagon argues that white phosphorus doesn’t poison people but burns them. In consequence, it is covered by the protocol on incendiary weapons, which the U.S. hasn’t signed. While Saddam Hussein’s use of white phosphorus against the Kurds was severely criticized, the same criticism should apply to the use of white phosphorus against civilians in Fallujah.

In addition to white phosphorus, depleted uranium (DU) munitions, which contain low-level radioactive waste, were extensively used in Fallujah. According to the Pentagon, 1,200 tons of DU have been used thus far in Iraq.

Reports covering the U.S. offensive on Fallujah state that widespread human rights abuses were committed, including indiscriminate violence against civilians and children.

Writing for The Independent Patrick Cockburn says, “In the assault US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops. British officials were appalled by the lack of concern for civilian casualties.”

A documentary produced by RAI, the Italian state TV, shows a series of photographs from Fallujah corpses with the flesh burnt off but clothes still intact, a finding consistent with the effects of white phosphorus on humans. I am reminded of a poem by Yusef Komunyakaa “You and I are Disappearing,” whose first stanza says,

The cry I bring down from the hills
belongs to a girl still burning
inside my head. At daybreak
she burns like a piece of paper.

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