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

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

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

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

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

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

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
inside my head. At
she burns like a piece of paper.

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