A recently published study has reported a "staggering rise" in birth defects and miscarriages among babies and women living in parts of Iraq that were heavily exposed to toxic metals as a result of the US-led invasion and occupation of that country.
The report, published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, found "compelling evidence" linking the soaring numbers of birth defects and miscarriages to US and allied bombing and battles.
The study reports that miscarriages, toxic levels of lead and mercury contamination, congenital heart defects, brain dysfunctions and limb deformities are on the rise in Fallujah, located about 40 miles (64 km) west of the capital Baghdad.
Of all the babies surveyed by the researchers in Fallujah, more than half of those born between 2007 and 2010 had birth defects. Before the US assaults on Fallujah in 2004, that figure had been around 10 percent. Before the year 2000, fewer than 2 percent of Fallujah's babies were born with deformities.
Among Fallujah's pregnant woman surveyed in the study, more than 45 percent experienced miscarriages in the two-year period following the US assaults on the city. By contrast, around 10 percent of the city's pregnant women miscarried prior to the US attack.
The study's researchers found a similar rise in birth defects and miscarriages in the southern city of Basra, where British forces invaded in 2003.
The US launched the first of two major assaults on Fallujah in April 2004 after four Americans, private contractors for the security firm formerly known as Blackwater USA, were ambushed, killed, burned, dragged through the city's streets and hung from a bridge. The first attempt to "pacify" Fallujah failed, leading to a second invasion in November. In addition to killing hundreds of innocent civilians, US forces also used highly toxic depleted uranium munitions.
Depleted uranium, along with lead and mercury, were cited in the new study. Depleted uranium is a suspected carcinogen. Lead, which can be passed from a woman's bones to her child during pregnancy, can cause brain and central nervous system defects. Mercury poisoning can cause permanent brain and kidney damage. It can also be passed from mother to child.
Among the children of Fallujah surveyed in the study, lead levels in the hair of children with birth defects were five times higher than in other children. Mercury levels were six times higher. Among children with birth defects in Basra, three times more lead was found in their teeth than in non-affected children.
Dr. Mozhgan Savabiesfahani, an environmental toxicologist from the University of Michigan's School of Public Health and one of the study's lead authors, told the Independent that there is a "footprint of metal in the population" and there is "compelling evidence linking the staggering increase in Iraqi birth defects to neuro-toxic metal contamination following the repeated bombardments of Iraqi cities."
"In utero exposure to pollutants can drastically change the outcome of an otherwise normal pregnancy," Dr. Savabiesfahani told the paper. "The metal levels we see in the Fallujah children with birth defects clearly indicates that metals were involved in manifestation of birth defects in these children."
"The massive and repeated bombardment of these cities is clearly implicated here," she added. "I have no knowledge of any alternative source of metal contamination in these areas."
Dr. Savabiesfahani added that the study may actually have underestimated the prevalence and severity of the problem since many parents of deformed children hide them away from public view.
The shocking increase in birth defects has been reported in previous studies and in the media. Horrific deformities, including babies born with the wrong number of limbs, eyes and horribly twisted bodies, were reported. One baby was even born with two heads.
A Pentagon spokesperson refuted the growing body of evidence linking US munitions to Iraqi birth defects.
"We are not aware of any official reports indicating an increase in birth defects in Basra or Fallujah that may be related to exposure to the metals contained in munitions used by the US or coalition partners. We always take very seriously public health concerns about any population now living in a combat theater," the spokesperson said.