Toxic after effects of Fallujah “worse than Hiroshima”

I don’t have anything interesting to say about this, other than I can’t find any evidence of any North American press reporting on the issue – which is disturbing to say the least. So, I’m just posting the Belfast Telegraph’s story. You can also read about it on Arab News and China.org.cn

“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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7 thoughts on “Toxic after effects of Fallujah “worse than Hiroshima”

  1. There are studies its not radiation it is mercury and lead:

    two well-known neurotoxic metals, Pb and Hg. Hair metal data from Fallujah showed Pb to be five times higher in the hair samples of children with birth defects (n = 44; mean ± SD 56,434 ± 217,705 lg/ kg) than in the hair of normal children (n = 11; 11,277 ± 27,781 lg/kg). Mercury was six times higher (n = 44; 8,282 ± 25,844 lg/kg Vs n = 11; 1,414 ± 3,853 lg/kg)

    (from http://www.springerlink.com/content/u35001451t13g645/fulltext.pdf?MUD=MP )

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    Most likely when the US destroyed the infrastructure in Fallujah they left behind metals that are now breaking down and entering the water supply. Iraq needs water quality measurements and environmental cleanup.

      1. Yeah if it was DU then you potentially blame the American attack. If it is Pb and Hg then it is the Iraq government / Fallujah government’s decision to not clean up an environmental spill and at the same time to have redeveloped the area to repopulate.

        After having a city trashed, how could you not be testing the water for lead? For example in your country the Environmental and Workplace Health department has pretty much cleaned up any lead spills immediately since the 1950s. They work with the municipalities and test every house. They require that every utility test regularly and plumbers test anytime they see lead sources.

        Mercury is well known to cause birth defects, stays in food sources, accumulates in bodies and can travel as a vapor. If there were mercury sources in large numbers in Fallujah they had to clear the city and clean before letting people back in.

      2. The blame for the results of the war rests squarely with those who instigated the war. Agression is the supreme crime.

  2. Agression is the supreme crime.

    How can you possibly believe that given that you have blogged for years about armed struggle. You are quite likely one of the most enthusiastic supporters for resolving political problems through violence I’ve ever seen.

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    My point about the metals is that the contamination is not a result of the war but a result of the Iraqi government not following sane practices for environmental clean up. The buried infrastructure may be the result of the war, but the water contamination (most likely) and the subsequent birth defects are not. You can’t argue vehemently against racism and then not hold government run by brown people to the same standards you would hold a white government to when discussing health and environmental problems. Your government, the Canadian government, would never ever ever have considered handling a mercury / lead spill the way the Iraqi government did.
    _______

    As far as aggression I think that’s kinda iffy. There were essentially 3 separate Iraq wars that happened back to back:

    a) US attack on the Ba’ath (2003)
    b) Sunni resistance (2004-7)
    c) Iraqi civil war (2006+)

    The US didn’t not start (b) or (c) and during the Sunni resistance phase the 2nd battle of Fallujah occurred. If the crime is aggression and not occupation or whatever, than the non-Ba’ath Sunni were the ones being aggressive. The USA was at that point interested in conducting a peaceful occupation and the resistance movement was who wanted the war.

    1. First – anti-colonial violence is not agression, it is the violence of the colonizer turned back against it. Agression is committed by states, not insurgent groups.

      Second – I don’t think I’m an enthusiastic supporter of solving problems through violence. This is part of reality, that people try to solve problems through violence, and I think our liberal discourse is dominated by a very dishonest way of thinking about armed struggle. I also think maoists have a dishonest way of thinking about armed struggle, for pretty much opposite reasons. Violence rarely improves things, but distinguishing between violence used to carry out right and violence used to advance the interests of power is key for any politics that doesn’t dissolve into liberalism or authoritarianism.

  3. First – anti-colonial violence is not agression, it is the violence of the colonizer turned back against it. Agression is committed by states, not insurgent groups.

    Interesting. So does that apply generally? For example the Israelis were insurgents not a state when the conducted the 48-49 ethnic cleansing. That was turning the violence of the British colonizer back against it? And isn’t aggression against the Palestinians?

    Or for example the CIA’s use of the Jundullah isn’t aggression? Or the Israelis backing the Kurds and MEK against Iran similarly?

    Violence rarely improves things, but distinguishing between violence used to carry out right and violence used to advance the interests of power is key for any politics that doesn’t dissolve into liberalism or authoritarianism.

    I don’t think I’m arguing for liberalism in the sense you mean or authoritarianism and I’m arguing against making that difference. Violence is a tool, but an intrinsically immoral one. The immorality of killing people and breaking things can be overcome by other objectives but all groups of any sides are an interest of power.

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