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Birth defects surge among Fallujah children

Doctors are reporting a disturbingly large number of cases of birth defects in the town, with some blaming weapons used by the US after the Iraq invasion. In 2004, the city, about 40 miles from the capital, Baghdad, was the scene of fierce as the US carried out a major offensive against insurgents. Now, the rate of heart defects in newborn babies there is said to be 13 times higher than in Europe.

There are no official figures and the Iraqi government insist there are only one or two extra cases of birth defects per year in Fallujah, compared with the national average. The US army also says it is not aware of any reports showing an increase in birth defects in the area. A BBC correspondent in the city saw children suffering from paralysis or brain damage and a photograph of one baby who was born with three heads.

Medics are seeing a "massive unprecedented number" of heart defects, and an increase in the number of nervous system defects, British-based Iraqi researcher Malik Hamdan told the World Today programme. She said before the fighting one doctor would usually see about one case every two months, and now sees cases every day. The city’s rate of heart defects was 95 in every 1,000 births in January, she said  – 13 times the rate in Europe.

"I've seen footage of babies born with an eye in the middle of the forehead, the nose on the forehead," she added. Likewise, paediatric specialist, Dr Samira al-Ani, at the new American aid built Fallujah General Hospital, said: "I am a doctor. I have to be scientific in my talk. I have nothing documented. But I can tell you that year by year, the number [is] increasing." Doctors and parents believe toxic materials left over from the 2004 fighting entered the water supply in Fallujah after rubble from damaged buildings was bulldozed into the river. Controversial weaponry was used during the bombing, including white phosphorus. A spokesman for the US military, Michael Kilpatrick, said it always took public health concerns "very seriously". "No studies to date have indicated environmental issues resulting in specific health issues," he said. "Unexploded ordinance, including improvised explosive devises, are a recognised hazard," he added.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children