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More Suffering For The People Of Fallujah
And Why We Can't Gloss Over War Crimes

By Phil Dickens

23 July, 2010

Fatima Ahmed was born in Fallujah with deformities that include two heads

Doctors in Fallujah have been reporting a rise in birth defects since 2004. Alongside this, a new survey has found that cancer, leukaemia and infant mortality are all on the increase as well.

According to the report's abstract;

There have been anecdotal reports of increases in birth defects and cancer in Fallujah, Iraq blamed on the use of novel weapons (possibly including depleted uranium) in heavy fighting which occurred in that town between US led forces and local elements in 2004. In Jan/Feb 2010 the authors organised a team of researchers who visited 711 houses in Fallujah, Iraq and obtained responses to a questionnaire in Arabic on cancer, birth defects and infant mortality. The total population in the resulting sample was 4,843 persons with and overall response rate was better than 60%. Relative Risks for cancer were age-standardised and compared to rates in the Middle East Cancer Registry (MECC, Garbiah Egypt) for 1999 and rates in Jordan 1996–2001. Between Jan 2005 and the survey end date there were 62 cases of cancer malignancy reported (RR = 4.22; CI: 2.8, 6.6; p < 0.00000001) including 16 cases of childhood cancer 0-14 (RR = 12.6; CI: 4.9, 32; p < 0.00000001). Highest risks were found in all-leukaemia in the age groups 0-34 (20 cases RR = 38.5; CI: 19.2, 77; p < 0.00000001), all lymphoma 0–34 (8 cases, RR = 9.24;CI: 4.12, 20.8; p < 0.00000001), female breast cancer 0–44 (12 cases RR = 9.7;CI: 3.6, 25.6; p < 0.00000001) and brain tumours all ages (4 cases, RR = 7.4;CI: 2.4, 23.1; P < 0.004). Infant mortality was based on the mean birth rate over the 4 year period 2006–2009 with 1/6th added for cases reported in January and February 2010. There were 34 deaths in the age group 0–1 in this period giving a rate of 80 deaths per 1,000 births. This may be compared with a rate of 19.8 in Egypt (RR = 4.2 p < 0.00001) 17 in Jordan in 2008 and 9.7 in Kuwait in 2008. The mean birth sex-ratio in the recent 5-year cohort was anomalous. Normally the sex ratio in human populations is a constant with 1,050 boys born to 1,000 girls. This is disturbed if there is a genetic damage stress. The ratio of boys to 1,000 girls in the 0–4, 5–9, 10–14 and 15–19 age cohorts in the Fallujah sample were 860, 1,182, 1,108 and 1,010 respectively suggesting genetic damage to the 0–4 group (p < 0.01). Whilst the results seem to qualitatively support the existence of serious mutation-related health effects in Fallujah, owing to the structural problems associated with surveys of this kind, care should be exercised in interpreting the findings quantitatively.

Last night, BBC News covered this story in more detail. The report, though harrowing, is worth watching.

However, there is just one minor point to pick up on. Namely, the idea that "fierce fighting between US forces and Sunni insurgents" is at the root of this problem and that "the use of novel weapons (possibly including depleted uranium)" doesn't need to be overtly identified with either side.

In fact, what happened in Fallujah can only accurately be described as a war crime perpetrated by the United states military. "Balance," as ever, only obfuscates this fact.

The US Army National Ground Intelligence Centre's report on the "Battle of Fallujah I," states that it "was not simply a military action, it was a political and informational battle whose outcome was far less certain" than military victory. They were concerned that "the effects of media coverage, enemy information operations (IO), and the fragility of the political environment conspired to force a halt to U.S. military operations."

Reading the report, it soon becomes clear why;

During the shaping operations, Regimental Combat Team-1 (RCT-1) from the First Marine Division established a cordon of traffic control points (TCPs) on major roads around Fallujah in order to isolate the city's defenders and prevent their escape. Supplies of food and medicine were allowed in, but only women, children, and old men were allowed out. Other MEF units simultaneously conducted aggressive counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in the surrounding area (Ar Ramadi, Khaldiyah, Al Kharmah, and Northern Babil) in order to interdict and prevent insurgent groups outside Fallujah from interfering. Civilians were warned to evacuate the city.

In other words, whilst the women and children were allowed to escape, the men were contained within the city walls to await their fate.

There is a strong parallel here with events in the Srebrenica Massacre during the Bosnian war. There, Serb forces separated the men and boys from the broader group of Bosniak refugees at Potočari, busing out the women and children, and slaughtering the men.

As Noam Chomsky has commented, the only major difference is that "with Fallujah, the US didn't truck out the women and children, it bombed them out."

Then, according to the NGIC report, "on 5 April 2004, Phase II kicked off;"

Two battalion task forces from RCT-1 assaulted Fallujah, about 2000 men in total, mostly light infantry supported by 10 M1A1 tanks, 24 AAVP-7 tracks, and a battery of M198 howitzers. The 2d Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment (2/1) attacked from the northwest into the Jolan district while the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (1/5) attacked from the southeast into the industrial district (Shuhidah). The MEF

During the campaign, at least one US battalion had "orders to shoot any male of military age on the streets after dark, armed or not." As a result, according to Iraq Body Count's analysis, "at least 572 of the roughly 800 reported deaths during the first US siege of Fallujah in April 2004 were civilians, with over 300 of these being women and children."

The US withdrew on May 1st, but went back in on November 8th. This time, the consequences would be even starker.

Dahr Jamail was the first to report that "he U.S. military has used poison gas and other non-conventional weapons against civilians in Fallujah." This was backed up by reports in the Washington Post that "some artillery guns fired white phosphorous rounds that create a screen of fire that cannot be extinguished with water."

The March-April 2005 edition of Field Artillery ran a special on the assault, which stated quite candidly;

WP [white phosphorous] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breaches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [high-explosive]. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out. .. We used improved WP for screening missions when HC smoke would have been more effective and saved our WP for lethal missions.

Then there was the use of depleted uranium. Deplete uranium is 1.67 times as dense as lead, giving bullets and shells tipped with it a higher pressure at the point of impact which leads to deeper penetration.

It is also known to have adverse health effects. In 2001, it was reported that malignant diseases had increased by 200% in Kosovo since the 1998 NATO bombing campaign. It has been linked to Gulf War syndrome and the increased likelihood of veterans to have children with birth defects. At the same time, Iraqis have blamed it for the rise in cancer rates country-wide.

The latest survey from Fallujah seems to confirm that link. This makes the campaign there part of a wider tradition going back through the use of Agent Organge in Vietnam to the nuclear bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki: not only horrendous, destructive acts, but ones whose effect reaches far beyond the present.

This is what media outlets such as the BBC gloss over when they talk about "fierce fighting between US forces and Sunni insurgents" or fail to identify who is behind "the use of novel weapons."

But this needs to be pointed out, and remembered. The seige of Fallujah in 2004 was a horrendous war crime, and for the poor, wretched children being born there the horror of it is only just beginning. By glossing over who the perpetrators of this attrocity are, we are only adding insult to injury.