Islamic Relief 2013 Qurban

Iraq is Poisoned … Literally

July 11, 2013 by  


By Laura Fawaz, TMO Contributing Reporter

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Stan Honda/Getty Images

Iraq is poisoned, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), who in 2012 completed a study on congenital birth defects in Iraq, which still has not been released to the public.

Iraq is a country that has seen its share of turmoil.  After the Gulf War in the early 1990’s, the invasion by American forces from 2003-2012, it suffered the concurrent repressive and murderous regime of Saddam Hussein.  But it can never really be over for the people of Iraq.  Thirty-five million of them wake up every morning to an all to real nightmare: childhood cancers, adult cancers and birth defects are just the beginning.  Familial cancers, cluster cancers and multiple cancers to all happen to the same person are not an unusual occurrence in Iraq. 

Infertility, repeated miscarriages, stillbirths and severe birth defects – some never described in any medical books – are everywhere in this war-torn country, and, in increasing numbers.  After years of war and terror, and losing loved ones, Iraqis cannot even rejoice in what should be a happy time of having a baby.  For them, it is filled with the fear of a birth defect that first cannot be described, but also that seems incurable. Families can never really escape the constant reminder of the catastrophe and destruction they grew up in, all at the hands of outside forces.  Trapped in this so-called life, struggling to survive, they call for help.

Then comes what appears to be a sign of hope.  After media attention and public pressure to this public health catastrophe, a joint study is in the works by (WHO) and the Iraqi Ministry of Health.  This study to determine the prevalence of birth defects in Iraq, began in late May of 2012 and was completed in early October of 2012.  According to the WHO website, this large-scale study was conducted in Baghdad, and in seven surrounding cities, with 10,800 households from 18 districts and a sample size of 600 households per district. 

This report, that was due to be released in November 2012, has not yet come out.  In March 2013, a high-ranking official at the Iraqi Ministry of Health in Baghdad discussed the issue with the BBC and said that “all studies done by the Ministry of Health prove with damning evidence that there has been a rise in birth defects and cancers” in Iraq.  In this documentary, called “Born under a bad sign”, two other Ministry of Health researchers discussed this unpublished study, confirming that cancers and birth defects constitute a major crisis for the next generation of Iraqi children.  They were able to confirm this due to the high number of cancers and birth defects in three specific cities: Nineveh, Anbar and Najaf, three cities that had documented uranium-filled munitions usage during the war.

In any serious health emergency, as in Iraq, such an extensive survey of public health must be widely publicized to draw international support.  Medical experts, environmental toxicologists, remediation staff and environmental cleanup specialists would be called to address this crisis.  The delay of the release of such a critical report is only delaying the start of any type of call to action to help the people of Iraq, to help to end the cancers, the miscarriages and the birth defects.

“A delay of over six months in the release of such a critical report has left many of us anxious and fearful that it may be suppressed,” says Dr Mozhgan Savabieasfahani.  Savabieasfahani is a native of Iran, and is an environmental toxicologist based in Michigan, USA.  She is the author of over two dozen peer reviewed articles and the book, Pollution and Reproductive Damage (DVM 2009).  She wrote and researched this contagion in Iraq, and why such an important report has been kept hidden.

She noted that in response to this costly delay in releasing the WHO report, 58 scientists, health professionals and human rights advocates recently wrote to WHO and the Iraqi Health Ministry, asking for the immediate release of their report.  “We requested that this globally significant report be released at once. We received no response to this letter,” said Savabieasfahani.

Iraqi, Iranian, Lebanese, Japanese, European, Australian and North American academics and public figures signed the letter.  They included Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach, John Tirman, Human Rights Now (Japan), and Health Alliance International.

On May 26th, the UK’s The Guardian suggested one possible answer for the report being held up.  It reported the recent comments of the former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, Hans von Sponeck: “The US government sought to prevent WHO from surveying areas in southern Iraq where depleted uranium had been used and caused serious health and environmental dangers.”

Western forces invaded Iraq while they were in the vulnerable state; post Gulf War and under the Saddam regime.  MSNBC reported: “Between 2002 and 2005, US forces shot off six billion bullets in Iraq.  They also dropped 2,000 to 4,000 tones of bombs on Iraqi cities, leaving behind a witch’s brew of contaminants and toxic metals, including the neurotoxins lead and mercury.”

Since 2003, the health of mother-and-child has further deteriorated in Iraq, and the country’s overall health indicators are now among the poorest in the world. This current state will be further damaged if the WHO report on congenital birth defects continues to be inaccessible to the public.  According Savabieasfahani, “the WHO report will clarify the magnitude and trend of congenital birth defects in several Iraqi governorates, identify possible risk factors for these birth defects, and assess the public burden of these conditions on the Iraqi nation.” 

She, as well as many other human right groups, believes that immediate release of this report will be the first step towards mobilizing efforts globally to the further degradation in Iraq and in the entire region.  After so many years of sanctions and war, the public health of 35 million Iraqis must come first for once.  The focus and strive must be to save lives today as well as to prevent any further contamination of the earth with war pollutants.

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