By Gene Clancy
Published Jan 9, 2011 8:08 PM
Zainab Abdul Latif moves wearily among her three children, wiping their foreheads and propping them up in their wheelchairs. “Every day, they need intensive care,” the 29-year-old Fallujah mother says. Neither her two sons, Amar, 5, and Moustafa, 3, or daughter, Mariam, 6, can walk or use their limbs. They speak two words — “mama, baba” — between them. All are in diapers.
Zainab is one of many faces of Fallujah’s battle aftermath. She is overwhelmed by a situation that she has no way to change. “They cannot eat or drink by themselves, and every day I have to take Mariam to the hospital. She is very sensitive to flu and regularly gets diarrhea and other ailments. The doctors have told me they are mentally [impaired] and have nerve paralysis. They say it is congenital. I really can’t take care of them like this and I need help.”(Guardian, Nov. 13)
Dr. Bassem Allah, the senior obstetrician who is chief custodian of Fallujah’s newborns, finds the cases both perplexing and disturbing. During medical school he had to search Iraq for a case study of an infant with a birth defect. “It was almost impossible during the 80s,” he told the Guardian. “Now, every day in my clinic or elsewhere in the hospital, there are large numbers of congenital abnormalities or cases of chronic tumors. Now, believe me, it’s like we are treating patients immediately after Hiroshima.”
Birth defect rates in Fallujah have become increasingly alarming over the past two years. In the first half of 2010 the number of monthly cases of serious abnormalities rose to unprecedented levels. In Fallujah’s general hospital, 15 percent of the 547 babies born in May had a chronic deformity, such as a neural-tube defect — which affects the brain and lower limbs — cardiac or skeletal abnormalities or cancers. (Guardian, Dec. 30) In addition to these conditions, research has shown startling increases in children born with cleft palates, multiple fingers and toes, encephalitis and leukemia.
The Dec. 30 Guardian reports that no other city in Iraq has anywhere near the same levels of reported abnormalities. Fallujah sees at least 11 times as many major defects in newborns as world averages, research shows.
The United States government, of course, denies that the appalling spike in birth defects in Fallujah has anything to do with its illegal and brutal invasion of Iraq and the U.S. assault that led to the virtual destruction of the city in 2004. Washington has quickly pointed out what it calls the lack of comprehensive scientific studies and claims that the unprecedented rise in birth defects is “anecdotal” and “inconclusive.”
As the new year began, however, the callous aplomb of the Pentagon war directors was shaken by a report published in the January issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The research confirms earlier estimates of the major, unexplained rise in cancers and chronic neural-tube, cardiac and skeletal defects in newborns. The authors found that malformations rose to unprecedented levels in the first half of 2010.
The report says Fallujah has been infected by a chronic environmental contaminant. It focuses on depleted uranium, used in weaponry during two U.S. assaults in 2004, as a possible contaminant. Depleted uranium has long been suspected as a deadly contaminant of battlefield areas going back to the first U.S.-Iraq war. (See “Metal of Dishonor,” 1999, 2nd ed.)
The report acknowledges that other battlefield residues may also be responsible for the defects: “Many known war contaminants have the potential to interfere with normal embryonic and fetal development. The devastating effect of dioxins on the reproductive health of the Vietnamese people is well-known.”
The findings come prior to a much-anticipated World Health Organization study of Fallujah’s genetic health. They follow two alarming earlier studies, one of which found a distortion in the sex ratio of newborns since the 2003 invasion of Iraq — a 15 percent drop in births of boys.
“We suspect that the population is chronically exposed to an environmental agent,” wrote one of the report’s authors, environmental toxicologist Mozhgan Savabieasfahani. The report identifies metals as potential contaminating agents afflicting the city — especially among pregnant mothers. “Metals are involved in regulating genome stability,” notes the report. “As environmental effectors, metals are potentially good candidates to cause birth defects.”
“It is important to understand that under normal conditions, the chances of such occurrences are virtually zero,” wrote Savabieasfahani.
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