After 20 years, Iraqis still suffer from impact of U.S. use of banned weapons

Wang Xinjuan
2024-03-20 10:39:03

BAGHDAD, March 19 (Xinhua) -- Twenty years after the U.S. military offensive in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, locals are still suffering from the lasting impacts of the use of internationally banned weapons by U.S. forces.

In April 2004, U.S. occupation forces launched an offensive in Fallujah, 50 km west of Baghdad, but they encountered strong resistance from anti-U.S. armed groups, which prompted the U.S. forces to sweep the city in November of the same year.

According to local doctors and citizens, the U.S. forces employed internationally banned weapons in their operation, including white phosphorus and depleted uranium (DU) ammunition that led to catastrophic levels of birth defects and abnormalities due to contamination.

A local doctor in the city told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that there are no official figures about the overall situation of birth defects in the city, but a study conducted in 2011 showed that out of every 1,000 newborns, some 147 of them were born with birth defects. The researchers also found that the number of breast cancer cases in females increased 10 times compared to the number in 2003.

Another study released by the Switzerland-based International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in July 2010 said that "the increases in cancer, leukemia, and infant mortality, and perturbations of the normal human population birth sex ratio in Fallujah are significantly greater than those reported for the survivors of the A-Bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945."

Researchers found there had been a 38-fold increase in leukemia in Fallujah compared to 17-fold in the Japanese cities, according to the study.

"What happened in Fallujah was extremely brutal. The Americans used banned weapons, which led to a rise in cases of infertility in women, birth defects, and cancer cases," said Saadi al-Dhehaybah, a 51-year-old doctor at a hospital in Falluja. He was also a witness of the Fallujah battles in 2004.

After 20 years of the battles, the effects of the U.S. use of internationally banned weapons still exist, the doctor added.

"I saw with my own eyes after they struck with the white phosphorus, the bodies in the street, especially in the Jolan neighborhood, which is the most affected neighborhood in the battles," al-Dhehaybah recalled.

A report issued by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in November 2007 stated that while the total amount of depleted uranium munitions used during and after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq remained unknown, "speculative figures from various studies range between 170 and 1,700 metric tonnes."

According to the report, DU is the main by-product of uranium enrichment and is a chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal. This dense metal can be used in munitions for its penetrating ability and as a protective material in armored vehicles. But air, soil, water, and vegetation can be contaminated and affected by DU residues, which may lead to serious health problems for humans, including damage to human DNA and causing cancer and birth defects.

The reckless use of internationally banned weapons has also led to a virtual increase in rare congenital birth defects in Fallujah.

In the remains of a house bombed during the battles in the Jolan neighborhood, Kahlid Ibrahim, 53 years old, told Xinhua that he lost part of his house, but the real suffering continued even 20 years later.

"My family life has turned into an unbearable tragedy because I have two disabled daughters, which disturbs our daily life, not to mention the daily suffering of looking for a job," Ibrahim groaned.

Ibrahim's daughters Nour, 18 years old, and Mayar, 10 years old, both suffer from birth deformities in their spine and rib cage.

Nour was forced to leave school because she was unable to walk anymore, while Mayar was still in school but had been advised by the doctor not to carry her school bag, and possibly it was only a matter of time for her to leave school.

Over the years, Ibrahim has spent all his savings on treating his two daughters.

"All the deformities are due to the U.S. bombing, in which they used various weapons, and after all these years, diseases and other negative impacts appear on our people," Ibrahim said angrily.

Abdul Quddus Hameed, a medical analysis specialist, told Xinhua that medical teams had observed a surge in diseases possibly related to the utilization of internationally banned weapons in Iraq since 2010. For example, "they were recording on average five cancer cases per month in children, and the average continued to increase until it reached more than 10 cancer cases per month in 2018," Hameed said.

These weapons also led to the emergence of diseases that were not known in the city before 2004, in addition to the occurrence of stillbirths.

"The effects of the use of these weapons on people's lives will remain for hundreds of years, and the people of the city will remain vulnerable to cancer, mental illness, and sometimes mysterious diseases," Hameed warned, calling on the international community to intervene.

"From a medical standpoint, Fallujah should be razed and no one should enter it, and a new city should be built because the existing city has become a contaminated land full of cancerous radiation and endemic diseases," al-Dhehaybah said.

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