Soaring Birth Deformities and Child Cancer

It has been three years on since the invasion of Iraq, and there appears no end to the conflict. U.S. launched its massive so-called “Operation Iraqi Freedom” on March 20, 2003.The worst victim of the invasion is children. Reports indicate an alarming growth in birth deformities and cancer rates among Iraqis’ children.

US, emboldened with initial success in Afghanistan, invaded Baghdad to disarm Iraq of alleged Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD). The massive invading force comprised of 214,000 Americans (including Naval, Logistics, intelligence and air force personnel), 45,000 British, 2,000 Australian and 2,400 Polish troops, adequately backed by hundreds of war planes.

The medical crisis is being directly blamed on the widespread use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions by the US and British forces in Iraq during Gulf War of 1991 and 2003’s illegal invasion. The U.S. is believed to have used 320,000 tons of depleted uranium during the Gulf War alone. Also British Armed Forces used depleted uranium in some of its ammunition.

Up till now, the battlefield in Iraq remains a radioactive toxic wasteland — and depleted uranium munitions remain a mystery. Many scientists sought to investigate the events but Washington is reportedly blocking any attempt to inspect the aftermath of war. Rather ignoring the proven telling impact on civilians’ lives and health, the US and UK forces continue DU’s use even today. And this nightmare for Iraqi is unlikely to end soon as US and UK plan to prolong Baghdad’s occupation for many years to come. President George W.Bush on many occasions has reiterated troops will not be withdrawn until his designed mission is completed.

Cancer and birth defects rate in war-ravaged Iraq has increased tenfold. The increase is believed to be caused by intensive use of DU in populated and nearby areas. The rate of birth defects increased from 11 per 100,000 births in 1989 to 116 per 100,000 in 2001.It is soaring further. Children are falling ill with cancer at the rate of 10; one per 100,000. In districts where the use of DU concentrated most, the rate rose to 13.2 per 100,000.

UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) quotes Dr Nawar Ali, a medical researcher into birth deformities at Baghdad University saying: “A total of 650 cases [birth deformities] since August 2003 have been reported in government hospitals. That is a 20 percent increase from the previous regime. Private hospitals were not included in the study, so the number could be higher.”

His colleague, Dr Ibrahim al-Jabouri, reported: “In my experiments we have found some cases where the mother and father were suffering from pollution from weapons used —– and we believe that it is affecting newborn babies in the country.” The rise in birth defects is matched by a continuing increase in the incidence of childhood cancers. Seven years ago, the College of Medicine at Basra University carried out a study from 1976 to 1999 into the rate of cancer among children under the age of 15.It revealed a horrific change between 1990 and 1999. In the province of Basra alone, the incidence of cancer of all types rose by 242 percent, while the rate of leukemia among children rose 100 percent.

The results were cited at the time in campaigns to end the UN-imposed and US-enforced sanctions against Iraq, which were held responsible for the death of as many as 500,000 Iraqi children from malnutrition and inadequate medical treatment. Terrible as these results were, the last few years have witnessed a further rise in the number of children under 15 falling ill with cancer and the rate has now reached 22.4 per 100,000 compared to rate of 3.98 per 100,000 in 1990. Iraq holds US and UK responsible for the devastating impact on civilians ‘health caused by illegal widespread use of DU.

The study noted: “Most doctors and scientists agree that even mild radiation is dangerous and increases the risk of cancer. The health risk becomes much greater once the [DU] projectile has been fired. After they have been fired, the broken shells release uranium particles. The airborne particles enter the body easily. The uranium then deposits itself in bones, organs and cells.

Many reports and political experts confirmed that more than 940,000 DU (depleted uranium) projectiles were fired during the war to evacuate Kuwait from Sadam Hussain’s hold. The war cost oil producing Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other countries in the region more than $34 billion (b) which they paid to US. The war mandated by UN was backed by 34 western and other regional countries.

Children are especially vulnerable because their cells divide rapidly as they grow. In pregnant women, absorbed uranium can cross the placenta into the bloodstream of the foetus. A report said: “In addition to its radioactive dangers, uranium is chemically toxic, like lead, and can damage the kidneys and lungs. Perhaps, the fatal epidemic of swollen abdomens among Iraqi children is caused by kidney failure resulting from uranium poisoning. Whatever the effect of the DU shells, it is made worse by malnutrition and poor health conditions….”

Dr Janan Hassan of the Basra Maternity and Children’s Hospital told IRIN in November 2004 that as many as 56 percent of all cancer patients in Iraq were now children under 5, compared with just 13 percent 15 years earlier. “Also,” he said, “it is notable that the number of babies born with defects is rising astonishingly. In 1990, there were seven cases of babies born with multiple congenital anomalies. This has gone up to as high as 224 cases in the past three years.”

The statistics point to the long-term consequences of depleted uranium contamination. Munitions containing an estimated 300 tonnes of DU were unleashed by coalition forces in southern Iraq alone in 1991. A decade after the war, DU shell holes are still 1,000 times more radioactive than the normal level of background radiation. The surrounding areas are still 100 times more radioactive. Experts surmise that fine uranium dust has been spread by the wind, contaminating swathes of the surrounding region, including Basra, which is some 200 kilo-meters away from sites where large numbers of DU shells were fired.

A 1997 study into the cancer rate among Iraqi soldiers who fought in the Basra area during the Gulf War found a statistically significant increase in the rate at which they were stricken with lymphomas, leukemia, and lung, brain, gastro-intestinal, bone and liver cancers, as compared to personnel who had not fought.

Somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 tonnes of DU was expended during the three-week war in 2003. Unlike 1991, when most of the fighting took place outside major population centres, the 2003 invasion saw the wholesale bombardment of targets inside densely-populated cities with DU shells.

Christian Science Monitor journalist Scott Peterson has registered radiation on a simple Geiger counter at levels some 1,900 times the normal background rate in parts of Baghdad in May 2003. The city has a population of six million.

Ever since 1991 war, cancer and birth defect rates began to rise dramatically and the medical specialists fear that Iraq will continue to face an epidemic of cancers, under conditions where the medical system, devastated by years of sanctions and war, is unable to cope with the existing crisis.

The widespread military debris, i.e. 8-12 million unexploded shells and grenades, contaminating water and soil will continue to cause an increase in cancer and birth defects in the newborn for at least another century, medical analysts say.

The prolonged sanction, imposed on Iraq at the behest of UK and US, has accentuated the agonies of Iraqis manifold. The sanctions wreaked unparalleled devastation in Iraq’s economic life. A senior UN official reportedly termed the sanctions as “genocide” by systematically starving the country of elementary needs. Sanction crunches killed an estimated 1.5 million Iraqis.

Yet, US alone, as a powerful member of the U.N. Iraqi Sanctions Committee had all along opposed the calls for a lifting of sanctions and vetoed over 5,000 quite genuine and legitimate food or medicine contracts. They placed ” hold” on the import of $ 5.3 billion (b) worth of essential goods in early 2002.

By1993 the Iraqi economy under sanctions shrank to one-fifth of its size in 1979 and UN under the oil-for-food programme fixed the annual ceiling at $ 170 per Iraqi. Out of this sum a further $51 was deducted and diverted to the UN Compensation Commission to pay any government, outfit or individual who claimed to have suffered in Iraq’s attack on Kuwait.

Under “humanitarian goods” only food and medicine’s import was allowed. But the import of items needed to restore water supply, sanitation, electrical power, even medical facilities was prohibited.

Among the items kept out by American veto, on the grounds that they might have a military application, were chemicals, laboratory equipment, generators, communications equipment, ambulances (on the pretext that they contain communications equipment), chlorinators, and even pencils (on the pretext that they contain graphite, which has military uses).

Between 1991 and 2000 US and UK fighter planes flew more than 280,000 sorties in ‘no-fly-zones’ to spy and enforce sanctions strictly. However Iraqi planes were prohibited to fly over the zone. After the withdrawal of UN weapons inspectors in 1998, the average monthly release of bombs by UK and US planes rose dramatically from seven and 14 tons per month-reaching a pre-war peak of 54.6 tons in September 2002. Some 100 air force bombers were deployed bombs on 5thh September 2002.These widespread bombings reportedly “hit civilians and essential civilian infrastructure, as well as livestock”, cites Anthony Arnove in his book: “Iraq Under Siege: Ten Years On”, Monthly Review, December 2000).

Even the Economist (London), an eager supporter of American policies towards Iraq, described conditions in the besieged country by the year 2000 as: “Sanctions impinge on the lives of all Iraqis every moment of the day. The tap-water causes diarrhoea, but few can afford the bottled sort. Because the sewers have broken down, pools of stinking muck have leached through the surface all over town.

That effluent, combined with pollution upstream, has killed most of the fish in the Shatt al-Arab river and has left the remainder unsafe to eat. The government can no longer spray for sand-flies or mosquitoes, so insects have proliferated, along with the diseases they carry”.

The Sydney Morning Herald in its recent issue has quoted Dr. Amar, the deputy head of the Al-Sadr Teaching Hospital in Basra, one of the main hospitals treating Iraqi cancer patients, saying “We don’t have drugs to treat tumours. I have a patient with tumours who is unconscious and I don’t have drugs or a bed in which to treat him. I have two women with advanced ovarian cancer but I can give them only minimum doses of only some of the drugs they need”.

“Two or three days ago we had to cancel all surgery because we had no gauze and no anaesthetics. Our wards are like stables for horses, not humans. We can’t properly isolate patients or manage their diets. We don’t have proper laboratory facilities…. “If you are sick don’t come to this hospital for treatment. It is collapsing around us. We’re going down in a heap”, Dr Amar added.

During the 1970s and 1980s Iraq was generally regarded as having good nutrition, but health problems only emerged when the Security Council imposed widespread sanctions. Iraqi children malnutrition has doubled since the U.S-led invasion in 2003. In reporting the 7.7 percent malnutrition rate for Iraqi youngsters, the Norwegian-based Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science said last November that the figure was similar to the levels witnessed in some African countries.

Last year, Carol Bellamy, head of UNICEF, said the violence hampers the delivery of adequate supplies of food. This is also endorsed by aid groups active there. A U.S study in October 2004 estimated as many as 100,000 more Iraqis, most of whom are women and children, have died since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The number is higher than those who would have normally have died, based on the death rate before the war was launched in search of so-called Nuke.

The initial justification offered by invading US-UK for the invasion was alleged Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction. The extensive investigations carried by UN and US weapons inspectors proved the allegation simply “hoax”. Then the world was told that Saddam Hussein’s regime had links with Al-Qaeda. This was also a complete fallacy.

After this the so-called champion of democracy and human rights UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush cited Saddam’s human rights abuses, but the world knows those in Iraq today are far more worse.

By now the world is convinced that, the real reason for war was to secure direct control of the vast supply of oil in Iraq. Iraq is endowed with the world’s second largest reserves at present 115 billion(b) barrels. And it is estimated that long delayed exploration may take the figure to 220-250 billion barrels.

Another reason widely reported in the American press is that the United States plans to use the invasion of Iraq as a launching pad for a drastic re-shaping of West Asia, apparently to ensure hegemony of nuke-equipped Israel to protect US interests in the region in the long term.

Israel is reported to possess between 400–600 weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) but the west is little concerned over the huge WMDs presence in the neighborhood of Muslim states. Israel backed militarily and financially by its creators-US and UK– has waged series of bloody wars against Muslim beighbours and occupied vast tracts of lands since 1948. Israel made widespread use of US supplied depleted uranium shells in southern Lebanon in its nearly five-week long conflict with Hezbollah this summer.

The US-led invasion of Iraq is widely described in Middle East streets as Israel’s proxy. The perception gains ground as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has defended the US invasion if Iraq and called it” a boon for Israel’s security”. “I stand with the president (Bush) because I know that Iraq without Saddam Hussein is so much better for the security and safety of Israel, and all of the neighbours of Israel without any significance to us,” Reuter reported Olmert as telling visiting American Jews in Occupied Jerusalem on Wednesday last.

The mid-term election losses of US President Bush’s Republican Party in November this year were widely considered a repudiation of his decision to topple Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as part of a so-called vision of democratising the region and bolstering allies like Israel. Iraq remains mired in a cycle of intense violence claiming average more than 200 lives a day.

This has shattered US mirage of creating democracy there, analysts said and quipped reports pouring in from across Iraq affirm that Iraqis irrespective of their sectarian divide “yearn” for a strongman to contain the escalating violent situation.

Inter-Shiite-Sunni violence was virtually non-existent during Saddam’s time, but within seven months of the illegal invasion the Iraqis were faced with a total breakdown of society: no food, 70% unemployed, hardly any electricity, polluted drinking water, hospitals without adequate drug supplies, crime increasing. In fact the US-led ongoing war has tore apart the socio-economic and environmental life of the people, once prosperous under Sadam Hussain. Independent medical journal the Lancet estimates more than 650,000 Iraqis have been killed and many more seriously injured since globally condemned illegal 2003 invasion. However, the invading Coalition played down the death toll at around 50,000 while their foisted Nouri-al Maliki cabinet health minister has admitted the toll between100,000-150,000!

Iraq or in Greek Mesopotamia flanked by two rivers- Tigris and Euphrates- once known as the cradle of human civilisation has widely been bombed and rampaged by the occupation forces.The destruction of 5,000 year old archaeological heritage in Iraq’s small town Babylon is a tragic loss to humanity and brightly smears the face of invaders with rage and lust.

The head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt maintains our presence in Iraq is making the situation worse. In fact, Iraq under occupation has become a breeding ground for unabated violence and terrorism with no end in sight.

But both UK and US leaders even amidst their ever-sagging popularity at home continue to boast that they are not going out of Iraqi as they do not believe in what Bush called ” cut and run”. Perhaps, they will commit more troops to raise the strength beyond 1,40,000 troops level and bolster 14 expensive US bases, each the size of a small town, to ensure complete hold on vast oil reserves for many years to come.

Of recent the US government has started giving the impression that their continued occupation of Iraq is necessary to stop inter-sect violence, but there’s evidence to suggest that the inter-sect violence in Iraq is in fact the deliberate result of American policy that started in October 2003, many analysts point out. Major American and British media corporations instead of reporting objectively have joined the campaign as” foot-soldiers” or embedded journalists in American cliché. This is amply demonstrated in Fox News, CNN, BBC and other so-called global networks heavily slanted broadcasts round the clock daily.

To get rid of illegal occupation and overcome deep wounds and unending agonies, political experts urge Iraqis to calm down their charged-emotion and understand the game-plan of the occupying forces. Iraqis must revert to their centuries old bond and cohesion and adopt a strong nationalist movement patterned on Vietnamese style to drive away the invaders. Current destruction of each other on sectarian-line simply suits to the agenda of occupying forces.

by Muhammad Jalil Ahmed

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