|An M1A1 Abrams fires into a building during the
siege of Fallujah in 2004 – Wiki Image
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos
In this year’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama declared that “the Iraq war is coming to end”—at least for Americans, leaving “with their heads held high” because our “commitment has been kept.”
For millions of Iraqis, however, the war is far from over—in fact, for a growing number of families in cities that were nearly destroyed during the years of insurgency and counterinsurgency, the crisis is only beginning. As one Iraqi American said, “Just because we [Americans] don’t pay attention doesn’t mean the rest of the world isn’t paying attention.”
According to studies and eyewitness accounts over the past few years, Fallujah—an Iraqi city that was practically obliterated by U.S. heavy artillery in two major offensives in 2004—is experiencing a staggering rate of birth defects. The situation echoes similar reports from Basra that began to circulate after the first Gulf War in 1991.
The litany of horrors is gut-wrenching: babies born with one eye in the middle of the face, missing limbs, too many limbs, brain damage, cardiac defects, and missing genitalia.
Upon touring a clinic in Fallujah in March 2010, the BBC’s John Simpson said, “We were given details of dozens upon dozens of cases of children with serious birth defects. . . . One photograph I saw showed a newborn baby with three heads.” Later, at the main U.S.-funded hospital in the city, a stream of parents arrived with children who had limb defects, spinal conditions, and other problems. Authorities in Fallujah reportedly warned women to hold off on having babies at all.
Ayman Qais, director of Fallujah’s general hospital, told the Guardian that he was seeing two affected babies a day, compared to four a month in 2003. “Most [deformities] are in the head and spinal cord, but there are also many deficiencies in lower limbs,” he said. “There is also a very marked increase in the number of cases of [children] less than 2 years old with brain tumors.”