A horrendous humanitarian disaster seems to have developed in Fallujah, Iraq, site of two of the most brutal battles of Bush's Iraq War. Typically, the American corporate media is all but ignoring it. From The Guardian:
Doctors in Iraq's war-ravaged enclave of Falluja are dealing with up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants and a spike in early life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials left over from the fighting.
The extraordinary rise in birth defects has crystallised over recent months as specialists working in Falluja's over-stretched health system have started compiling detailed clinical records of all babies born.
Neurologists and obstetricians in the city interviewed by the Guardian say the rise in birth defects – which include a baby born with two heads, babies with multiple tumours, and others with nervous system problems - are unprecedented and at present unexplainable.
For those who don't remember, the first battle of Fallujah began in April, 2004, after the much-publicized brutal massacre, dismemberment, and public display of the bodies of four Blackwater mercenaries. As explained by Washington Post Pentagon and military correspondent Thomas Ricks, in Fiasco:
The civilian leadership of the U.S. government didn't want to wait for a careful, quiet counterattack.
Despite misgivings from some military commanders, including top Iraq commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the Bush White House wanted a quick response.
(Iraq occupation czar Paul) Bremer talked to Sanchez about launching a vigorous attack, and soon the Marines got a call from Sanchez's headquarters. "Go in and clobber people" was the way one officer remembered it.
Ill-planned and with ill intent, the U.S. military's response was vicious. The American corporate media didn't cover it with quite the same obsession they had brought to the initial massacre. In an article excoriating coverage by the New York Times, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting explained:
The head of Fallujah's hospital, Dr. Rafie al-Issawi, has consistently maintained that more than 600 people were killed in the initial U.S. siege of Fallujah in April 2004, a figure that rose to more than 800 as the siege was lifted and people pinned down by the fighting were able to register their families' deaths (Knight-Ridder, 5/9/04). More than 300 of the dead, according to al-Issawi, were women and children. The Iraqi Health Ministry in Baghdad, part of the U.S.-installed government, gave a lower figure of about 271 killed, with 52 of the dead being women and children. On October 26, the independent British-based group Iraq Body Count reported that the civilian death toll in Fallujah in April was about 600, based on their extensive evaluation of the numbers reported by local hospital officials and the Health Ministry, as well as mainstream media accounts.
Other journalistic investigations depict the reality of widespread civilian death in Fallujah: An Associated Press tally of the dead in Iraq (4/30/04) discovered that in Fallujah "two football fields were turned into cemeteries, with hundreds of freshly dug graves, marked with wooden planks scrawled with names -- some with names of women, some marked specifically as children. At one of the fields, an AP reporter was told by volunteer gravediggers on April 11 that more than 300 people had been buried there." A Reuters report (4/13/04) quoted researchers from Human Rights Watch calling for an investigation based on reports they received from residents fleeing the violence in Fallujah.
Even the lower estimates provided by the Health Ministry debunk the Times' repeated assertion that reports of "large civilian casualties" are "unconfirmed"-- unless the paper wants to maintain that 52 women and children killed in an attempt to "liberate" their city are inconsequential. But the Times should know from its own reporting that the higher casualty figures are much more realistic.
By the end of a very bloody month, which culminated in aerial bombardments and hundreds of civilian dead, Bush again was dishonestly declaring victory. The U.S. forces ended up negotiating a withdrawal, while turning the city over to supposedly friendly Iraqi forces. In fact, the withdrawal represented a retreat.
As described by former Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran, in Imperial Life in the Emerald City:
The Iraq force, called the Fallujah Brigade, would turn out to be a disaster.
As were all things Bush Administration, including very specifically, and in contrast to the usual and typically dishonest stereotype of Republican administrations, all strategic military planning.
Eventually, the eight hundred AK-47 assault rifles, twenty-seven pickup trucks, and fifty radios the marines had given the brigade wound up in the hands of insurgents.
Within months, the U.S. was again sporadically bombing the civilian city. By the end of the year, a second massive assault was launched by U.S. forces. Unembedded American reporter Dahr Jamail managed to get into the besieged city, and described civilians cut down by sniper fire, bullet-riddled ambulances, overwhelmed hospitals, and a makeshift cemetery built in a public soccer field.
Media repression during the second siege of Fallujah was intense. The "100 Orders" penned by former US administrator Bremer included Order 65, passed on 20 March 2004, which established an Iraqi communications and media commission. This commission had powers to control the media because it had complete control over licensing and regulating telecommunications, broadcasting, information services, and media establishments. On 28 June, when the US handed over power to a "sovereign" Iraqi interim government, Bremer simply passed on his authority to Iyad Allawi, who had long-standing ties with the British intelligence service MI6 and the CIA. The media commission sent out an order just after the assault on Fallujah commenced ordering news organisations to "stick to the government line on the US-led offensive in Fallujah or face legal action". The warning was circulated on Allawi’s letterhead. The letter also asked the media in Iraq to "set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear".
On the ground, aside from the notorious bombing and then banning of al-Jazeera, other instances of media repression were numerous. A journalist for the al-Arabiya network, who attempted to get inside Fallujah, was detained by the military, as was a French freelance photographer named Corentin Fleury, who was staying at my hotel. Fleury, a soft-spoken, wiry man, was detained by the US military along with his interpreter, 28-year-old Bahktiyar Abdulla Hadad, when they were leaving Fallujah just before the siege of the city began. They had worked in the city for nine days leading up to the siege, and were held for five days in a military detention facility outside the city.
"They were very nervous and they asked us what we had seen, and looked through all my photos, asking me questions about them," he said as we talked in my room one night. He told me he had photographed homes destroyed by US war planes. Despite appeals by the French government to the US military to free his translator and return Fleury’s confiscated camera equipment and his photos, there had been no luck in attaining either. (When I had last seen Fleury in February 2005, Hadad was still being held by the US military.)
The military was maintaining a strict cordon around most of Fallujah. As I could not enter the city, I set out to interview doctors and patients who had fled and were presently working in various hospitals around Baghdad. While visiting Yarmouk Hospital looking for more information about Fallujah, I came across several children from areas south of Baghdad. One of these was a 12-year-old girl, Fatima Harouz, from Latifiya. She lay dazed in a crowded hospital room, limply waving her bruised arm at the flies. Her shins, shattered by bullets from US soldiers when they fired through the front door of her house, were both covered by casts. Small plastic drainage bags filled with red fluid sat upon her abdomen, where she took shrapnel from another bullet. Her mother told us, "They attacked our home, and there weren’t even any resistance fighters in our area."
Significantly, given this weekend's news, Jamail also wrote, in September 2004:
The U.S. military has used poison gas and other non-conventional weapons against civilians in Fallujah, eyewitnesses report.
"Poisonous gases have been used in Fallujah," 35-year-old trader from Fallujah Abu Hammad told IPS. "They used everything — tanks, artillery, infantry, poison gas. Fallujah has been bombed to the ground."...
"They used these weird bombs that put up smoke like a mushroom cloud," Abu Sabah, another Fallujah refugee from the Julan area told IPS. "Then small pieces fall from the air with long tails of smoke behind them."
He said pieces of these bombs exploded into large fires that burnt the skin even when water was thrown on the burns. Phosphorous weapons as well as napalm are known to cause such effects. "People suffered so much from these," he said.
In the new report, The Guardian asked a local doctor to monitor birth defects over a three week period. In just that three weeks, at Fallujah General Hospital, alone, 37 babies were born with birth defects, many of them involving neural tubes. Overall, doctors say they used to get a couple babies with birth defects every couple weeks or so, but now get a couple a day!
Other health officials are also starting to focus on possible reasons, chief among them potential chemical or radiation poisonings. Abnormal clusters of infant tumours have also been repeatedly cited in Basra and Najaf – areas that have in the past also been intense battle zones where modern munitions have been heavily used.
Certainly, there is enough evidence to warrant a full investigation. What happened, who authorized it, and if chemical and radiological weapons were used, did that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity?