[News] The Children of Fallujah - The Hospital of Horrors

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Apr 26 12:17:17 EDT 2012

April 26, 2012

The Children of Fallujah - The Hospital of Horrors

The pictures flash up on a screen on an upper 
floor of the Fallujah General Hospital. And all 
at once, Nadhem Shokr al-Hadidi’s 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. “I’ve 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. There’s 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 baby’s 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 
can’t 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 don’t 
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 it’s 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 Allani’s 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 Allani’s 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 Down’s 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 
Busby’s 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 King’s 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. I’m sure 
the Americans used weapons that caused these 
deformities. But now you have a 
goodness-knows-what government in Iraq and no 
study. It’s very easy to avoid to doing anything 
– except for some sympathetic crazy professor 
like me in London to try and achieve something.”

In al-Hadidi’s 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.

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