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Iraqi Birth Defects Worse than Hiroshima

(warning: graphic images)

The United States may be finished dropping bombs on Iraq, but Iraqi bodies will be dealing with the consequences for generations to come in the form of birth defects, mysterious illnesses and skyrocketing cancer rates.

Al Jazeera’s Dahr Jamail reports that contamination from U.S. weapons, particularly Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions, has led to an Iraqi health crisis of epic proportions. “[C]hildren being born with two heads, children born with only one eye, multiple tumours, disfiguring facial and body deformities, and complex nervous system problems,” are just some of the congenital birth defects being linked to military-related pollution.

In certain Iraqi cities, the health consequences are significantly worse than those seen in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Japan at the end of WWII.

(Dr Samira Alani/Al Jazeera])

(Dr Samira Alani/Al Jazeera])

The highest rates are in the city of Fallujah, which underwent two massive US bombing campaigns in 2004. Though the U.S. initially denied it, officials later admitted using white phosphorous. In addition, U.S. and British forces unleashed an estimated 2,000 tons of depleted uranium ammunitions in populated Iraqi cities in 2003.

DU, a chemically toxic heavy metal produced in nuclear waste, is used in weapons due to its ability to pierce through armor. That’s why the US and UK were among a handful of nations (France and Israel) who in December refused to sign an international agreement to limit its use, insisting DU is not harmful, science be damned. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s refusal to release details about where DU munitions were fired has made it difficult to clean up.

Today, 14.7 percent of Fallujah’s babies are born with a birth defect, 14 times the documented rate in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fallujah’s babies have also experienced heart defects 13 times the European rate and nervous system defects 33 times that of Europe. That comes on top of a 12-fold rise in childhood cancer rates since 2004. Furthermore, the male-to-female birth ratio is now 86 boys for every 100 girls, indicating genetic damage that affects males more than females.

(Dr Samira Alani/Al Jazeera)

(Dr Samira Alani/Al Jazeera)

(On a side note, these pictures are rather sanitized compared to other even more difficult to look at images. See here if you can bear it.)

If Fallujah is the Iraqi Hiroshima, then Basra is its Nagasaki.

According to a study published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, a professional journal based in the southwestern German city of Heidelberg, there was a sevenfold increase in the number of birth defects in Basra between 1994 and 2003.

According to the Heidelberg study, the concentration of lead in the milk teeth of sick children from Basra was almost three times as high as comparable values in areas where there was no fighting.

In addition, never before has such a high rate of neural tube defects (“open back”) been recorded in babies as in Basra, and the rate continues to rise. According to the study, the number of hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”) cases among new-borns is six times as high in Basra as it is in the United States.

This isn’t isolated to Fallujah and Basra. The overall Iraqi cancer rate has also skyrocketed:

Official Iraqi government statistics show that, prior to the outbreak of the First Gulf War in 1991, the rate of cancer cases in Iraq was 40 out of 100,000 people. By 1995, it had increased to 800 out of 100,000 people, and, by 2005, it had doubled to at least 1,600 out of 100,000 people. Current estimates show the increasing trend continuing.

As Grist’s Susie Cagle points out, “That’s potentially a more than 4,000 percent increase in the cancer rate, making it more than 500 percent higher than the cancer rate in the U.S.

Dr. Mozghan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, told Jamail that “These observations collectively suggest an extraordinary public health emergency in Iraq. Such a crisis requires urgent multifaceted international action to prevent further damage to public health.”

(Dr. Samira Alani/Al Jazeera)

Instead, the international community, including the nation most responsible for the health crisis (hint: it starts with a “U” and ends with an “S”), is mostly ignoring the problem.

To make matters worse, Iraq’s healthcare system, which was once the envy of the region, is virtually nonexistent due to the mass exodus of Iraq’s medical doctors since 2003. According to recent estimates, there are currently fewer than 100 psychiatrists and 20,0000 physicians serving a population of 31 million Iraqis.

Dahr Jamail was on Democracy Now this morning discussing the horrific effects of military-related pollution in Iraq:

Yanar Mohammad, President of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq was also on Democracy Now and addressed the toxic legacy of birth defects in Iraq. (I interviewed Mohammed for a piece I wrote for Muftah about the deterioration of Iraqi women’s rights since the invasion, which you can read here.)

  1. Raina – it is important that everyone understand the toxicity of DU. It is not just babies that are being harmed by the enviromental degradation in Iraq (and elsewhere) that DU munitions are part of. But it is vitally important to recognize that it is not radioactivity from DU that is at the root of these effects on health. DU is not radioactive, but the metal itself is toxic. When you ascribe the observed defects to radioactivity, it is easy for others to dismiss your outrage because your factual basis is wrong. Fix this, and your piece gains power. Love your work – John

    March 21, 2013
    • Thank you for the tip John and for the kind words 🙂

      March 21, 2013
      • Venugopal #

        Uranium is radio active. Specific activity is very small. Uranium is described as Radio-toxic metal. Meaning the toxicity is due to the radio activity. As an aside all heavy metals are toxic to the human body.

        May 7, 2013
    • Jas Strong #

      Actually, depleted uranium is radioactive- it is almost entirely uranium-238, which has a half life of 4.4 billion years- but the chemical toxicity far outweighs any contribution its radioactivity makes to its deleterious effect on living organisms.

      March 22, 2013
      • Bananas are also radioactive.

        March 22, 2013
      • Robert #

        As has been stated, everything is radioactive. It’s quantity we’re talking about.

        Metal toxicity is a fuckton greater killer than radioactivity. Uranium and similar chemicals are too large to enter the body through digestion, but the body intakes metals all the time. If the molecule is small and radioactive or toxic, you are going to see birth defects. It’s not the uranium that’s doing it. It’s the metal.

        March 23, 2013
  2. If these stories were on the 6 o’clock news in peoples faces – I believe we would see far more activism against war. The sanitised news put out on the mainstream is a dereliction of journalistic duty and criminal. Such a tragedy for these people. Thanks for writing this article. Very powerful. You just hope justice will someday be served on the perpetrators of this.

    March 21, 2013
    • Depleted Uranium wasn’t BROUGHT to Iraq as a part of the war. It was ALREADY there. There is no one to blame but the regimes that dabbled in these technologies to begin with.

      March 23, 2013
      • How do you figure that? The US and British armies go bullet shopping at Iraqi gun stores???

        March 24, 2013
      • Venugopal #

        Depleted Uranium is used in Armour Piercing Shells for artillery. Brought in by US army to Iraq. Because of the very high density of Uranium metal it is effective as artillery shell.

        May 7, 2013
  3. Words pale after seeing these babies. Those who argue for war must be confronted with them.

    March 21, 2013
    • This is more about the choice of fatal weapons, than war itself. All war is horror, you just pick your poison.

      Meantime, let me know when you figure out how to expunge evil from human nature so that there is no more war.

      March 23, 2013
  4. thomas #

    thanks for this article , it is indeed an eye-opener to many

    March 22, 2013
  5. Tom #
    Actually look into these things before you believe everything you read. And although it’s from wiki it’s all referenced and uses actual published and reviewed journals. As it states DU is an alpha emitor and so can’t even penetrate the skin. The radiation what little there is would have to be ingested. There’s no proof that these pictures are of children from Iraq

    March 22, 2013
    • Tehrani #

      What are you talking about, no proof? Read the Al Jazeera report which lists all its sources. The children are from Fallujah. Shame on you!

      March 22, 2013
      • Isn’t Al Jazeera the same news station that aired Iraqi generals claiming that we weren’t in Baghdad as our M1A1s were pulling thunder runs through downtown?

        March 22, 2013
    • Sarah #

      “Actually look into these things before you believe everything you read”
      Maybe you should take your own words into consideration. Half of the wiki you linked to isn’t even sourced properly, so I don’t know where you get off thinking it can be counted as credible.

      “There’s no proof that these pictures are of children from Iraq”.
      Even if the pictures aren’t from Iraq, the statics should should say enough themselves. How can you even think DU hasn’t played a part when the cancer rate has increased by potentially more than 4,000 percent?

      March 22, 2013
    • obama #

      Tom, the radiation isn’t the matter. DU is a toxic metal in and of itself.

      March 22, 2013

      According to CANADIAN NUCLEAR SAFETY COMMISSION, it is not the radioactivity that is in cause but the toxicity of DU. It is dangerous. It causes deformities.

      We are just starting to see how bad DU is. But in 2009, the CNSC knew already the dangers of DU.

      Here is the official link:

      Wiki is not a reliable source.


      March 22, 2013
    • while the big bad russians refuse to use DU, and only perscribe to use it in black days…

      and why are we using DU in a area with no armor, when HE and standard munitiions would work.

      March 22, 2013
      • Evan Dean #

        RobertJohn, while your question was rhetorical and illustrative, I’ll reply to it as if it were posed literally. “We,” the first word in the phrase “we the peole of the United States,” don’t have any say in decisions regarding the munitions and tactics of our military. Since the onset of WW2, the US military has acted with zero oversight from the civilian government in tactical matters, only receiving rebuke after the facts, such as with Agent Orange and anti-personnel napalm in Vietnam. The widespread use of DU on non-armored targets in Iraq displays an arrogance and almost hedonistic over-use of power. It is the result of the conflict’s asymmetry, as well. With no fear of getting shot back at with DU, no fear of having their home cities littered with its dust, our commanders felt free to use it on quasi-civilian, insurgent targets with impunity, as well as one of two of these: zero regard for the after-effects, or very poor understanding of what those would be. Given the high level of training of our troops, I sadly tend to conclude the former. This reflects a level of dehumanization among our military ranks which is a very, very disturbing and sad sign indeed. Here we are happy that women can ‘serve,’ to use the common euphemism. The next step was not to allow women to fight and kill, it was to free men from the business as well! Hmm, I seem to have strayed onto a soapbox here.

        March 22, 2013
  6. nipponhime #

    Yeah and you should definatly believe EVERYTHING Al Jazeera has published

    March 22, 2013
  7. k4t434sis #

    Reblogged this on kat5 . postfix.

    March 22, 2013
  8. It’s horrific to think that this barely scratches the surface of what Saddam did to the Kurds in Anfal. The world is a terrible place.

    March 22, 2013
  9. Forest #

    What can we do about it?

    March 22, 2013
  10. DU rounds are for armor piercing, used by A10 Warthogs and M1Abrams. I would have trouble believing that they were used to fight insurgents in Fallujah for the reason that they are not particularly useful for that purpose. Iraq has experienced a lot of chemical pollution that can lead to birth defects in far greater quantity than DU rounds. Chemical weapons used by Saddam and the biggest threat to human health: THE BURNING OF THE OIL FIELDS. But, it must be just too far fetched to think that Al Jazeera would be into some anti American propaganda. Would it?

    March 22, 2013
  11. James F #

    Basra’s birth defects have been abnormally high since before the US Ever fucking touched the place. They are trying to place this blame on America when really they have terrible health already.

    Add in that Basra was taken by the British, and our expended DU Rounds are INSANELY low for this war due to a lack of tank battles, and you have people jumping to conclusions without reading the article, or knowing what they are talking about.

    As other people have pointed out – Benzoids in their soil and water has been screwing the Iraqis over since they found out what Oil was.

    March 22, 2013
    • Evan Dean #

      There are reports from troops of DU being widely used on non-armored targets, James. I did not save the links and cannot supply them. i do not expect you to take my word for it, let alone the original reports, but you should know that these reports are what my own comments and views, as well as others posting here, are based on.

      March 23, 2013
  12. juan #

    “support our troops”

    March 22, 2013
  13. don #

    I wish someone would put one of those partitions online so we can get these criminals (BUSH,DICK, RUMSFELD) arrested for war crimes

    March 23, 2013
    • Erica #

      Obama has made it his business to use drones against villagers, including children. Don’t leave him off of your list.

      March 26, 2013
  14. Propaganda works both ways. As if the decades off Saddam using mustard gas on Kurds as ethnic cleansing had anything to do with it….Maybe if the United Nations would do what it was intended to do we would not be the ones taking down dictators who slaughter do to faith.

    March 23, 2013
    • don #

      where do you really think Saddam got those weapons from? Who supplied Saddam weapons during the IRAN/IRAQ war?

      March 23, 2013
    • vance #

      no we would not be the ones taking down dictators who slaughter due to faith…we’re much better at propping those dictators UP…pinochet and the.shah of iran, for example.

      March 23, 2013
    • There is a difference between just cause in going to war and just conduct during war. The mere fact that America may have been justified in going to war (though this is debatable) does not automatically guarantee that America’s war conduct was just. If we go to war to stop Saddam from using terrible weapons, and then use terrible weapons ourselves, we are not much better.

      March 23, 2013
      • It is not a “mere fact that America may been been justified in going to war…”. This is the massive difference here. This war was not justified..the very fact is it was an illegal war.

        March 24, 2013
      • I agree that the Iraq war was unjust, illegal, and imprudent. I simply wanted to avoid debating this with people who disagree with me. My main point was to establish the philosophical principle that just cause in going to war and just conduct in war are different matters.

        March 24, 2013
  15. John #

    Start the war crimes trials.

    March 23, 2013
    • Unfortunately, the ICC doesn’t agree with you.

      March 23, 2013
  16. persona #

    Some replies look insane.. “what did Saddam do?” “the problem was the burning of gas”
    So… using DU doesn’t matter? You really don’t care about that, DU you?

    March 23, 2013
  17. Thanks for posting this information. My researcher (wikipedia) suggests that this radioactive atrocity is plausible, if not probable. As a non-interventionist conservative who believes that just conduct during war is essential, I hope your work wakes up Republicans and Democrats and exposes their incessant jingoism for the sham it is. It is inconceivable to me that so many believe that an an evil government can wage a good war.

    March 23, 2013
  18. Mike #

    I recall reading about birth defects on the rise in Iran because of intense EM radiation being generated by planet-based satellite communications jamming (disguised as several new flagpoles in strategic locations). Could that not also be occurring in Iraq?

    March 23, 2013
  19. Zach #

    As liberal as I am, I cannot stand by and validate this “liberal for the sake of being liberal” hipster bullshit. Most of these pictures are not real. When the actual innocent children in these pictures grow up and finally ask their parents why they look the way they do, hopefully their parents will be alive enough to say “well, we tried to fuck with a much more powerful entity than we expected. This was based on false interpretations from the Qur’an. Your health problems are a direct result of our ignorance and arrogance.” Do you realize that we are the only species that tries to save the weak? Social Darwinism is a theory that most liberals subscribe to, but many are unwilling to stand behind when the theory comes into practice. Our generation will be subject to the consequences of the unforgivable actions of our fathers, just like their children suffer of the actions of their fathers. The world is not black and white. GROW THE FUCK UP. Would you rather see U.S. soldiers or Jihadist extremists dead? If your loyalties lie with anyone other than our soldiers, get the fuck out of our country.

    March 24, 2013
    • I hesitate to suggest what you are but you’re no liberal. To believe in a theory like Social Darwinism is not to endorse it. And really, hipster? Are you 80?

      March 24, 2013
    • Fatima #

      ummmm for starters Zach,do not try to ostracize a religion that you do not have the mental capacity to comprehend. Also the tragedy that is happening in Iran is not because of the “ignorance” or “arrogance” of the civilians but rather the ignorance and arrogance shown by the airheads who run the U.S. Personally, I would rather not see anyone dead and I think if you are able to form an opinion as to who’s life is more important, you show a high level of ignorance and lack of empathy for the human race. It has nothing to do with where your loyalty lies. \innocent people are being affected everyday by the aftermath of this ongoing war and whether it were to happen in Iran, US, Canada, Japan, or Fiji it still doesn’t make it any more “right”. As long as there are people out there with the mentality that one life is better than the other, the human race will never flourish. So my dear Zach, I believe you are the one that needs to “grow the fuck up” and educate yourself before you try to educate others and continue to contribute to this never ending cycle of ignorance.

      March 24, 2013
  20. George #

    USA…………the worst country in the history of mankind.

    March 24, 2013
  21. Mary #

    My father in law went over seas and fought. When he came bac he was sick. found out later it was a companys fault that did not clean things up. American people are over there fighting and many want to blame us for droping the bombs on them. are they not the ones who also bombed us. Also it has to do with Geans so it is not all the U.S.A fault. I say before you put blame look more ito it. THey are also seting bombs off as well. Do I need to show how the bombs over seas set off from over there has cased issues with our people. Nothing will ever be solved with Blame games.

    March 24, 2013
  22. john #

    It doesn’t matter at all, but the increase is 3900%. Just a little thing that’s to criticize, as this is simple math. Yet, by now the increase might already be at 4000% (also considering statistical fluctuations).

    March 25, 2013
  23. al #

    are we rly beleiving achmed here???? if we didnt have to shoot them their wldnt be any problems.

    March 25, 2013
  24. Morgan #

    Regardless of the statistics, photographs, emotion filled narratives, the message in all of this should not be lost; war is terrible. I’d venture to say no one on this page (or a handful if any) has personally been engaged in war, be that behind a gun (on either side of the fight) or as a civilian caught in the midst. Until you’ve been there personally, it’s far too easy to point fingers and link causation from correlation. Politics aside; most people tend to have a very short view of the history of man and the atrocities they commit against each other. Hopefully messages like these (debate the finer points all you want) give a better understanding what war is and what it becomes after the fact.

    A great quote regarding America’s involvement in the war in Iraq, “America is not at war, America is out at the mall, the Marines are at war”. This rings true since the amount of people with “skin in the game” is and was at an all time low. As a result no one gave a shit when the bombs started falling in March 2003. Of course there were those who protested, opposed, etc, but when it came time for the showdown, not enough people cared to stop or alter the path we embarked down.

    It’s terrible to see and read about these children who’s only mistake is being born in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, we all must be held to some personal level of responsibility in enabling this. Just because you didn’t directly to cause it, you didn’t actively prevent it. Maybe you protested the war, but why didn’t you go volunteer in a hospital in Iraq (extreme example I know)? How many degrees of separation does it take to remove “guilt” or ease your obligation to do something about it. There’s always an endless source of suffering and tragedy that goes unnoticed and instead of arguing over the finer points, the message is DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE TO BETTER THE LIVES OF OTHERS.

    There’s ~800 million people in the world without access to clean drinking water or 2.5 billion without proper sanitation. Do we shed the same grief and have the same political arguments over that? Out of sight is out of mind unfortunately. It took me 26 years to realize all of this and it resulted in me quitting my “career” and redirecting my life’s work towards improving life for others. If you feel strongly enough and are truly devoted to help people like the kids in these pictures (and anyone else in need), then get off your ass and do something. Kids like these and the millions suffering around the world cannot improve their lives with your cyber pity. Regardless of religion or lack there of, no one wants to be on their death bed wishing they had done more-

    “get busy living or get busy dying”

    March 25, 2013
  25. Mke #

    After reading what seems to be a lot of talk and no real information on how to help out. I would like to know where ever these kids are and however they got like that. How can I help.

    March 30, 2013
  26. Reblogged this on Peace Requires Anarchy and commented:
    What can we do to prevent the terribly destructive consequences of war?
    I propose that we should support making extortion illegal.

    May 12, 2013

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