Anecdotal Reports: Birth Defects Have Spiked in War-Torn Fallujah, Iraq

By Smriti Rao | March 4, 2010 6:06 pm

FallujahThe Iraq war and its aftermath have left physical and psychic wounds on both local residents who lived through the American invasion and many U.S. soldiers. But anecdotal reports suggest that another demographic may have suffered as well: unborn babies. Doctors in Fallujah, Iraq have reported a high number of children born with birth deformities ever since the massive battle between Iraqi insurgents and U.S. forces that raged there in 2004.

While no medical studies have been done or official reports have been issued, many Fallujah locals suspect that U.S. weaponry used in the assault has left a lingering effect.

A debate is expected to come up in the British parliament sometime next week on the subject. The call for debate came up after the latest report by BBC’s John Simpson, in which an Iraqi pediatrician said she was seeing two to three deformed babies each day; most of the children had cardiac complications. The doctor clarified that while she didn’t have any official figures, she had noted an increase in the number of cases since the American invasion. The current level of cardiac birth defects in Fallujah, said the BBC, is 13 times higher than that in Europe.

In his report, Simpson also encountered children who were missing limbs, who had extra fingers and toes,   with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each limb and an other child with spinal cord deformities so severe, he couldn’t bear to have it filmed. Many Iraqis, says Simpson, blame American weapons for increasing birth defects in the area. At a clinic he visited, he was told the worst problems were to be found in the neighborhood of al-Julan, near the river. This was the heart of the resistance to the Americans during the two major offensives of April and September 2004, and was hit constantly by bombs and shells [BBC].

Local people told the BBC they suspect US forces used white phosphorus and depleted uranium (DU) [in the battle of Fallujah], although this has not been proved [New Scientist]. White phosphorous can be found in incendiary weapons but is more often used as a smokescreen, while depleted uranium, which is toxic and weakly radioactive, can be found in some armor-piercing shells.

The allegations aren’t new. In a 2009 investigation, The Guardian asked pediatrician Samira Abdul Ghani to keep precise records over a three-week period. Her records reveal that 37 babies with anomalies, many of them neural tube defects, were born during that period at Fallujah general hospital alone [The Guardian]. That report observed that Fallujah’s doctors were hesitant to link the deformities with the war, and suggested that they might be wary of embarrassing the government. Instead, Fallujah general hospital’s director and senior specialist, Dr Ayman Qais, listed other possible causes of the birth defects: “These include air pollution, radiation, chemicals, drug use during pregnancy, malnutrition, or the psychological status of the mother,” said Dr Qais. “We simply don’t have the answers yet” [The Guardian].

Related Content:
80beats: Gulf War Syndrome Is a Real Illness, Federal Study Finds
80beats: Solving a 50-Year Mystery: How Thalidomide Causes Birth Defects
Discoblog: New Video Game Teaches Soldiers How to Make Nice With the Locals
DISCOVER: Has Science Found a Way to End All Wars?


  • john kostecki sr.

    No studies where done regarding the use of D. U. in regards to what it might do to Birth/BABIES. The words “WAR CRIMES” come to mind again. It was horrible how we bombed and bombed and bombed again Iraq before the invasion- Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Civilians Men/Women/Children/Dads/Moms/Sons/Daughters/Grandparents/Uncles/Aunts/Cousins.

    We have left Iraq ( highly likely) with the some Governing Body and who is to know how long this country we “liberated” WILL SUFFER BECAUSE OF US. Alluh help them. God surely did not……….

  • Becca Phillips

    I have a feeling America will one day be remembered as we now remember Nazi Germany.

    None of this is okay.

  • Bill White

    To #1: I thought Allah is God in Arabic.

  • James Stilton

    See this article about Gulf War syndrome. In the article, it says “nearly 320 tons of depleted uranium were used during the Gulf War”, which was fought in Iraq and Kuwait. Depleted Uranium was used during that conflict and is still radioactive due to the long radioactive half-life of Uranium. Basically, Iraq is a huge deposit of depleted uranium.

  • philip wagner

    I’m asking a question: why do we american people spend trillions killing Iraqi people so a small group of rich Texas oilmen can make billions? What’s wrong with the picture?

  • coryy

    “the psychological status of the mother”—REALLY???? spinal cord defects are caused by–depression? what on earth?

  • Angela

    Chronic, high stress levels wreak havoc with the entire human system, so it’s not unreasonable that pregnant mothers may have higher than expected levels of congenital birth defects. The stress of the situation alone could lead to higher levels of birth defects. Carmichael and Shaw (2000) [] found an increased risk of birth defects from mothers who experienced a major life stress event (e.g., death of a loved one, job loss, separation/ divorce) while pregnant. While these are major, they aren’t the same types of potential life threatening fear that Iraqi mothers may face so it could be that higher stress levels also correlate with higher risk of birth defect. So, yes, the psychological status of the mother is important.

    It could be that something in the weapons is causing problems, the maternal stress or it could be something else. More research is needed.

  • Tim
  • Melissa Heart

    Thanks for the updates :)


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