Thursday, October 25, 2012

In Iraq, High Rates of Cancer and Birth Defects Linked to Use of Chemical Weapons in War

In Iraq, High Rates of Cancer and Birth Defects Linked to Use of Chemical Weapons in War


by Eleanor J. Bader

RH Reality Check: Reproductive and Sexual Health and Justice News, Analysis and Commentary

October 23, 2012

http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/10/01/stoking-fire-chemical-poisoning-from-weapons-war-continue-to-cause-birth-defects-

It’s said that wars never end for those whose lives
they touch, and it’s true. Take Iraq, a place that
surely proves the maxim that war is not healthy for
children or other living things.

To wit: Despite the fact that the U.S. war with Iraq
came to a close on December 18, 2011, families in
numerous Iraqi cities are now living with a dramatic
rise in birth defects and cancer from chemical weapons
that were detonated near homes, schools, and
playgrounds during the nearly seven-year conflict.

The cities of Babil, Basra, Falluja, Haweeja, and Najaf



are cases in point. Let’s start with Haweeja, which is



30 miles south of Kirkuk and was home to Forward



Operating Base (FOB) McHenry throughout the war. Yifat



Susskind is executive director of MADRE, a New York-



based international women’s human rights organization.



Susskind says that Haweeja’s skyrocketing health



problems came to the group’s attention when members of



Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) MADRE's



partner organization in that country began going house



to house to talk about the need to establish a shelter



for rape survivors.







“When they arrived, they noticed that almost every



family they visited had a child under the age of 10



with stunted or paralyzed limbs, or who had been



born without fingers or toes," Susskind says. "And



they found teens who had been toddlers at the time



of the U.S. invasion and were now sick with cancer.



The OWFI activists were shocked and wanted to know



what was going on, why this was happening.







What they uncovered points directly to U.S.



culpability. Peace Alliance Winnipeg, for one, reports



that beginning in 2004, the United States tested all



types of explosive devices on Iraqis, thermobaric



weapons, white phosphorus, depleted uranium.







The upshot, discussed in The International Journal of



Environmental Research and Public Health, has been a



monumental increase in cancer, leukemia, malignant



brain tumors, and infant mortality. In Falluja alone,



The Journal concludes that the rate of life-threatening



illnesses and birth defects is ├ó€┼ôsignificantly greater



than those reported for survivors of Hiroshima and



Nagasaki in 1945.







Yes, you read that correctly, greater than the damage of



an atomic bomb, a fact corroborated by a 2009 article



in The Guardian newspaper. The article described a 38-



fold increase in the number of cases of leukemia and a



15-fold increase in the number of newborns born with



deformities during the first five years of the war,



including limb malformations, neural tube defects,



heart and vision anomalies, and a baby born with two



heads.







Not surprisingly, the miscarriage rate throughout the



country has mushroomed, and tumor clusters have been



recognized in Basra and Najaf, intense battle zones



where so-called modern munitions were heavily used.







In cities like Haweeja, where U.S. soldiers at FOB



McHenry routinely detonated explosive devices, it was



not uncommon for children to play, and for shepherds



and sheep to walk, in grass-covered fields that were



adjacent to the base. As they did so, they often



tracked a fine dust containing the residue of depleted



uranium (DU) from place to place. Microscopic particles



from the blasts were spread by wind, and subsequently



inhaled. These particles found their way into



groundwater and soil, polluting the air and



contaminating virtually everything they touched.







DU is, of course, lethal: scientists estimate that it



can remain radioactive for 4.5 billion years, but it



remains in use because it increases the penetration



capacity of projectiles. DU is blamed for the cancer



spike in the city of Babil, south of Baghdad, where the



number of diagnosed cases went from 500 in 2004 to



9,082 in 2009.







These facts point to a crisis of enormous proportions.



At the same time, MADRE’s Susskind makes clear that



Iraq’s problems are compounded by poverty and lack of



access to affordable health care, as well as by



pervasive superstitions about the causes of illness.



Widely held fallacies feed bias against the disabled,



she says, making the task of organizing especially



grueling.







“Iraq is a place where none of the work that has



been done in other countries to promote disability



rights has occurred, so there is still a lot of



discrimination against the disabled," Susskind



says.







"This gives us the tragic opportunity to organize to



upset the stigma, to break down negative attitudes that



exist, and to do community-based peer counseling to



help parents overcome the fear, guilt, anger, and



resentment they feel. The needs in the aftermath of



this war are so huge."







Susskind says that MADRE is is "working with OWFI on



the three-pronged strategy that for now is exclusively



focused on Haweeja: To raise $50,000 for direct



services to begin meeting the immediate and long-term



needs of the population that has been affected; to do a



comprehensive public-health survey to give us hard data



on the extent and range of the problems; and to explore



a legal challenge to demand U.S. accountability for the



crisis.







The challenge, Susskind continues, is made even more



daunting by the fact that there is only one health



clinic in Haweeja, a city of approximately 100,000



people. “We are studying models that have been used in



other places with limited access to mental and physical



health services, she says. “With OWFI we’re trying to



find community-based models that can train moms to help



their kids, get medical aid to people, and enhance the



population’s awareness of the correlation between



illness and the fact that their city was used as a



munitions dumping ground. We want the people of the



United States to understand that this crisis is a



direct result of the U.S. military’s disregard for the



health of the people in Iraq.



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