Sunday, 29 April 2012
Fisk in Fallujah
The Children of Fallujah
The Independent reports (April 25th): After at first denying the use of phosphorous shells during the second battle of Fallujah, US forces later admitted that they had fired the munitions against buildings in the city. Independent reports have spoken of a birth-defect rate in Fallujah far higher than other areas of Iraq, let alone other Arab countries. No one, of course, can produce cast-iron evidence that American munitions have caused the tragedy of Fallujah's children.
Studies since the 2004 Fallujah battles have recorded profound increases in infant mortality and cancer in Fallujah; the latest report, whose authors include a doctor at Fallujah General Hospital, says that congenital malformations account for 15 per cent of all births in Fallujah.
The hospital of horrors
The Independent reports (April 26th): The pictures flash up on a screen on an upper floor of the Fallujah General Hospital. And all at once, Nadhem Shokr al-Hadidi's administration office becomes a little chamber of horrors. A baby with a hugely deformed mouth. A child with a defect of the spinal cord, material from the spine outside the body. A baby with a terrible, vast Cyclopean eye. Another baby with only half a head, stillborn like the rest, date of birth 17 June, 2009. Yet another picture flicks onto the screen: date of birth 6 July 2009, it shows a tiny child with half a right arm, no left leg, no genitalia.
"We see this all the time now," Al-Hadidi says, and a female doctor walks into the room and glances at the screen. She has delivered some of these still-born children. "I've never seen anything as bad as this in all my service, Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster who has surveyed almost 5,000 people in Fallujah, agrees it is impossible to be specific about the cause of birth defects as well as cancers. "Some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened," he wrote two years ago. Dr Busby's report, compiled with Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, says that infant mortality in Fallujah was found in 80 out of every 1,000 births, compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and only 9.7 in Kuwait." she says quietly.
Families fight back
The Independent reports (April 27th): In Basra, I found Dr Jawad Khadim al-Ali who had drawn maps of the clusters of the new child and adult cancer cases across southern Iraq, some of the children from the very battlefields in which US tanks fired DU munitions at Saddam's armoured forces. Even when I visited these sites I found farming families with new cancers. This, the doctors attributed to DU, of course, not phosphorous, although some researchers have suggested DU was also used at Fallujah in 2004.
What was astonishing, however, was the response. While The Independent's readers gave generously for medicines for the children, the British government's reaction was pitiful. Lord Gilbert at the Ministry of Defence, in a letter dripping with sarcasm, said that my account of a possible link between DU ammunition and children's cancer – "coming from anyone other than Robert Fisk" – would be "a wilful perversion of reality". Particles from DU warheads became difficult to detect, he wrote, "even with the most sophisticated monitoring equipment".
Yet when an Atomic Energy Agency official wrote to the Royal Ordnance in London in 1998, he said that the spread of radioactivity and toxic contamination would be "a risk to both the military and the civilian population" if not dealt with in peacetime.