From our special correspondent
It’s a taboo subject. All those who take too close an interest in the “baby monsters” of Falluja are tirelessly stopped by the authorities. Once discreetly crossed the checkpoints at the entrance to the city of 300,000 inhabitants, located about sixty kilometers from Baghdad, “the city of mosques” is revealed. Held by the Islamic State from 2014 to 2016, Falloudja would almost seem to have returned to normal life if soldiers on the lookout and pick-ups topped with machine guns were not posted at all intersections.
The traces of the war and the passage of Daesh have almost disappeared. Most of the buildings have been rebuilt, minarets and domes sparkle with their Persian blue, and many shops and restaurants are flourishing. The souk is a mixture of scents of spices and grilled meats, the sound of televisions and the cries of vendors. As for the banks of the Euphrates, they are lined with reeds like a postcard image.
It’s hard to imagine that next to the families who came to bask in the sun there stands the bridge where the bodies of four American mercenaries, lynched by the crowd and charred, were hanged and exposed for days. It was March 31, 2004. The preamble to a first siege of the rebel city in April, then to Operation Phantom Fury at the end of 2004, opposing the guerrillas to the American forces, supported by the government Iraqi army . An episode considered the greatest battle of the Iraq war. White phosphorus incendiary weapons, thermobaric bombs, missiles and shells made of depleted uranium were dropped in large quantities on the Sunni bastion where some tens of thousands of civilians remained stuck.
Twenty years after the 2003 US invasion, cancer cases have skyrocketed and around one in five children are still born with birth defects. Never seen. According to confidential data collected at the Falloudja hospital where it was not possible to access, this is the case for at least 3,348 babies born between 2010 and 2022. Most do not survive. “Doctors are not allowed to speak but they continue to deliver these babies, there are even more than before,” testifies Abu Ahmed, a whistleblower whose name has been changed.
The record for babies born with malforms dates from 2021, with 419 cases recorded. This, despite a plummeting number of births, with some doctors advising Falloudja couples against having children. “Not to mention the cases that occurred during the many home births. Most mothers prefer to go and bury them without saying anything out of shame or fear of social rejection, says Abu Ahmed. Everyone knows friends or family members affected. He himself lost “six babies, dead in their mother’s womb or during childbirth and malformed”. However, his first daughter, born before 2004, would be “in perfect health”.
In his apartment where three of his children, handicapped by congenital anomalies, live, he scrolls through images of “baby monsters”. Horror meets the indescribable. Without limbs, with organs outside the body, a “fish head”, without a skull or with only one eye… “Cases that the Falluja hospital had never seen before and which started in the months that followed the American bombings,” he admits. “It’s worse than Hiroshima,” said Christopher Busby, a British scientist specializing in the effects of radiation on health, one of the few to have carried out an extensive scientific study in Falluja between 2009 and 2011.
Doctor Talib Hussein, a specialist in general surgery at Ramadi hospital, is familiar with these studies having overseen them as a member of the Al-Anbar province’s health monitoring board: “In 2010, we collected samples from homes, water, soil, air, hair or teeth, and sent them to a lab in London. After examination, they found that there was an abnormal concentration of depleted uranium, and we ended up concluding that it was the cardinal cause of birth defects and cancers. »
Mustafa Abdel Ahmed, 30, with a finely trimmed three-day beard and western style, is suffering the consequences today. A year ago, he lost his first baby, born without legs or sex. It is in a car parked along the main artery of Falloudja, near the exchange office where he works, that he recounts his distress: “After five months of pregnancy, the doctors knew thanks to the ultrasound that he is missing the lower part of his body. They advised my wife to have an abortion, but we decided to continue the pregnancy to term, thinking he would have a chance. Unfortunately, he did not survive his birth. “A feeling that will probably never know Mustafa Hussein, 29 years old and seller in a kebab:” I have been trying for six years to have a baby with my wife, without success. The doctors say it’s because of what we call here ‘the American virus’,” he explains.
Talking about this “virus”, can lead to “being prosecuted or arrested”, according to Abu Ahmed. “I received threats, like other families. We cannot say what happened to our children because of the American bombings, he continues. We can neither rely on the evidence we have collected, nor go to court to seek compensation, nor speak to the media. Overwhelmed by the influx of cancer patients – “two to three new cases every day in (his) office” – Dr. Talib Hussein calls for “support from the international community and the creation of research centers and specialized care. The UN has taken up the subject. A debate on the effects of depleted uranium weapons has been included on the agenda of its 79th session, scheduled for the end of 2024.
If Washington ended up recognizing the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons on Falloudja, the American authorities deny that these weapons can cause such effects on the population. One thing is certain, certain components of depleted uranium have a half-life equal to 4.5 billion years. The fear is therefore great that Falloudja and its population will be contaminated for eternity.
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