[News] The Children of Fallujah - The Hospital of Horrors
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Apr 26 12:17:17 EDT 2012
April 26, 2012
The Children of Fallujah - The Hospital of Horrors
by ROBERT FISK
The pictures flash up on a screen on an upper
floor of the Fallujah General Hospital. And all
at once, Nadhem Shokr al-Hadidis administration
office becomes a little chamber of horrors. A
baby with a hugely deformed mouth. A child with a
defect of the spinal cord, material from the
spine outside the body. A baby with a terrible,
vast Cyclopean eye. Another baby with only half a
head, stillborn like the rest, date of birth 17
June, 2009. Yet another picture flicks onto the
screen: date of birth 6 July 2009, it shows a
tiny child with half a right arm, no left leg, no genitalia.
We see this all the time now, Al-Hadidi says,
and a female doctor walks into the room and
glances at the screen. She has delivered some of
these still-born children. Ive never seen
anything as bad as this in all my service, she
says quietly. Al-Hadidi takes phone calls, greets
visitors to his office, offers tea and biscuits
to us while this ghastly picture show unfolds on
the screen. I asked to see these photographs, to
ensure that the stillborn children, the
deformities, were real. Theres always a reader
or a viewer who will mutter the word propaganda under their breath.
But the photographs are a damning, ghastly reward
for such doubts. January 7, 2010: a baby with
faded, yellow skin and misshapen arms. April 26,
2010: a grey mass on the side of the babys head.
A doctor beside me speaks of Tetralogy of
Fallot, a transposition of the great blood
vessels. May 3, 2010: a frog-like creature in
which the Fallujah doctor who came into the
room says this all the abdominal organs are trying to get outside the body.
This is too much. These photographs are too
awful, the pain and emotion of them for the
poor parents, at least impossible to
contemplate. They simply cannot be published.
There is a no-nonsense attitude from the doctors
in Fallujah. They know that we know about this
tragedy. Indeed, there is nothing undiscovered
about the child deformities of Fallujah. Other
correspondents including my colleague Patrick
Cockburn have visited Fallujah to report on
them. What is so shameful is that these
deformities continue unmonitored. One Fallujah
doctor, an obstetrician trained in Britain she
left only five months ago who has purchased
from her own sources for her private clinic a
£79,000 scanning machine for prenatal detection
of congenital abnormalities, gives me her name
and asks why the Ministry of Health in Baghdad
will not hold a full official investigation into
the deformed babies of Fallujah.
I have been to see the ministry, she says.
They said they would have a committee. I went to
the committee. And they have done nothing. I just
cant get them to respond. Then, 24 hours later,
the same woman sends a message to a friend of
mine, another Iraqi doctor, asking me not to use her name.
If the number of stillborn children of Fallujah
is a disgrace, the medical staff at the Fallujah
General Hospital prove their honesty by
repeatedly warning of the danger of reaching conclusions too soon.
I delivered that baby, the obstetrician says as
one more picture flashes on the screen. I dont
think this has anything to do with American
weapons. The parents were close relatives. Tribal
marriages here involve a lot of families who are
close by blood. But you have to remember, too,
that if women have stillborn children with
abnormalities at home, they will not report this
to us, and the baby will be buried without any record reaching us.
The photographs continue on the screen. January
19, 2010: a baby with tiny limbs, stillborn. A
baby born on 30 October, 2010, with a cleft lip
and cleft palette, still alive, a hole in the
heart, a defect in its face, in need of
echocardiography treatment. A cleft lip and
palate are common congenital anomalies, Dr
Samira Allani says quietly. But its the
increased frequency that is alarming. Dr Allani
has documented a research paper into the
increased prevalence of birth defects in
Fallujah, a study of four fathers with two
lineages of progeny. Congenital heart defects,
the paper says, reached unprecedented numbers in 2010.
The numbers continue to rise. Even while we are
speaking, a nurse brings a message to Dr Allani.
We go at once to an incubator next to the
hospital delivery room. In the incubator is a
little baby just 24 days old. Zeid Mohamed is
almost too young to smile but he lies sleeping,
his mother watching through the glass. She has
given her permission for me to see her baby. His
father is a security guard, the couple married
three years ago. There is no family record of
birth defects. But Zeid has only four fingers on each of his little hands.
Dr Allanis computer files contain a hundred
Zeids. She asks another doctor to call some
parents. Will they talk to a journalist? They
want to know what happened to their children,
she says. They deserve an answer. She is right.
But neither the Iraqi authorities, nor the
Americans, nor the British who were
peripherally involved in the second battle of
Fallujah and lost four men nor any major NGO,
appears willing or able to help.
When doctors can obtain funding for an
investigation, they sometimes turn to
organisations which clearly have their own
political predetermination. Dr Allanis paper,
for example, acknowledges funding from the Kuala
Lumpur Foundation to Criminalise War hardly a
group seeking to exonerate the use of US weaponry
in Fallujah. This, too, I fear, is part of the tragedy of Fallujah.
The obstetrician who asked to be anonymous talks
bleakly of the lack of equipment and training.
Chromosome defects like Downs Syndrome
cannot be corrected prenatally. But a foetal
infection we can deal with, and we can sort out
this problem by drawing a sample of blood from
the baby and mother. But no laboratory here has
this equipment. One blood transfer is all it
needs to prevent such a condition. Of course, it
will not answer our questions: why the increased
miscarriages here, why the increased stillbirths,
why the increased premature births?
Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the
University of Ulster who has surveyed almost
5,000 people in Fallujah, agrees it is impossible
to be specific about the cause of birth defects
as well as cancers. Some very major mutagenic
exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the
attacks happened, he wrote two years ago. Dr
Busbys report, compiled with Malak Hamdan and
Entesar Ariabi, says that infant mortality in
Fallujah was found in 80 out of every 1,000
births, compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and only 9.7 in Kuwait.
Another of the Fallujah doctors tells me that the
only UK assistance they have received comes from
Dr Kypros Nicolaides, the head of Foetal Medicine
at Kings College Hospital. He runs a charity,
the Foetal Medicine Foundation, which has already
trained one doctor from Fallujah. I call him up. He is bursting with anger.
To me, the criminal aspect of all this during
the war was that the British and the American
governments could not go to Woolworths and buy
some computers to even document the deaths in
Iraq. So we have a Lancet publication that
estimates 600,000 deaths in the war. Yet the
occupying power did not have the decency to have
a computer worth only £500 that would enable them
to say this body was brought in today and this was its name.
Now you have an Arab country which has a higher
number of deformities or cancers than Europe and
you need a proper epidemiological study. Im sure
the Americans used weapons that caused these
deformities. But now you have a
goodness-knows-what government in Iraq and no
study. Its very easy to avoid to doing anything
except for some sympathetic crazy professor
like me in London to try and achieve something.
In al-Hadidis office, there are now photographs
which defy words. How can you even begin to
describe a dead baby with just one leg and a head
four times the size of its body?
Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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