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13:25

Iraq: Fallujah residents face birth defects, mines and checkpoints 15 years after US invasion

Iraq, Fallujah
April 27, 2018 at 23:19 GMT +00:00 · Published

Residents of Fallujah recounted the consequences that the US invasion and the subsequent emergence of Islamic groups have brought upon the city, including a spike in birth defects, regular deadly mine explosions, as well as entrenched checkpoints.April 28 marks the 15th anniversary of what has become known as the Fallujah killings. On the same day in 2003, at least 20 civilians were killed when US soldiers opened fire during a protest march that civilians went ahead with despite a curfew imposed by the US military. The event marked a turning point in the history of the city, located 65 kilometers west of Baghdad. In the following months, Fallujah saw two massive US-led operations against insurgents.In the aftermath of the war, the city saw a significant rise in cases of cancer and birth defects. Research, including the epidemiological study 'Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005 - 2009' by Busby, Hamdan and Ariabi, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, has linked this increase to the bombardments during which chemical weapons could have been used.The Second Battle of Fallujah, code named 'Operation Phantom Fury' was launched by the US and its allies in November 2004. Later, US forces admitted that they used white phosphorus during the operation, but US Central Command (CENTCOM) has denied using depleted uranium munitions in the same operation. In 2014, US organisations Center for Constitutional Rights and Iraq Veterans Against the War, which counts veterans who fought in Fallujah among its members, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Defence. The purpose was to get more information about the use of depleted uranium in Iraq to better assess possible consequences for their own health as well as that of Iraqi civilians.Seven-year-old Fatima Shehab was born with her hands and feet severely deformed. "At first I had a few miscarriages, then I had Fatima," said the girl's mother. "When she was born we found that she had defects in her extremities, in the hands and feet. The doctors discovered that it was a result of the phosphorus which was used by the Americans," she explained.Dr. Samira al-Ani, a pediatrician who heads the local council studying birth defects following the battles of Fallujah, explained that certified German labs "found uranium, mercury and other pollutants" in analysed samples.Following the 2011 withdrawal of the last US troops from Iraq, the insurgency intensified and Fallujah became the first city to fall to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and affiliated groups. A full-blown civil war ensued. It wasn't until June 2016 that Fallujah was finally recaptured by the Iraqi Army. Almost two years later, Iraqi soldiers still control traffic into and out of Fallujah through the al-Suqoor checkpoint. Residents including local merchants express frustration at the delays caused by the strict controls which are still in place.Security forces "go into the trucks, turn all the boxes over, they walk all over the fruit," said fruit seller Abu Seif. "It's easier to come through with drugs." "They charge us custom fares, we pay taxes and also waste time at the checkpoint, maybe a whole day more, so the fruit starts to go bad and it's the people who pay the price," complained another merchant.Checkpoints leading to delays and financial losses are not the only daily reminder of the bloody battles which scarred Fallujah. The city has still not been fully cleared of the mines and explosives that IS planted at the height of its battles with the Iraqi security forces and there are often reports of injuries or even deaths."We came back from the [IDP] camp to Fallujah, they told us that Fallujah and its suburbs are all clean from IEDs, we came back on the road, and came back to clean. As we were cleaning the house an IED went of and killed my sister and my sister-in-law," said Fallujah resident Fouad Khalaf.Others complain that authorities do not pay enough attention to the issue. "Look at these flags all over the place, we can't walk here, the area is dangerous, soldiers come here, explode two to three bombs and they leave, this area behind me is closed off, where the flags are," said resident Faisal Ibrahim. As Fallujah residents struggle to rebuild their lives after 15 years of bloodshed, a council of imams called Ribat al-Mohammadi, are doing their part to bridge the sectarian divide and bring society back together. "The real Fallujah was taken from its people, it was taken many times - in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2014 - it was taken from its people, and it was given a bad name in the media, it was presented as a place that was creating terrorism, and even exporting terrorism," said Sheikh Mohamed Nouri from the Rabat al-Mohammadi council. "The real Fallujah is not like that, the real Fallujah is known for its libraries, it is known for the generosity of its people, their kindness, their heritage."Ribat al-Mohammadi started their work in 2007, spreading the message of moderate Islam. Under IS, their mosques were attacked and the scholars had to leave Fallujah for Haditha, where they took up weapons and then fought against IS militants under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces."Now in Iraq, the cities have been liberated, yes, militarily, but there is still a lot of work to do by the Iraqi government and security apparatus," said Sheikh al-Nouri. "But the Iraqi nation is also facing a huge undertaking of ideological work [against extremism]. It will take years and years, in my opinion, to reach true stability, which is the foundation on which nations are built."

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Residents of Fallujah recounted the consequences that the US invasion and the subsequent emergence of Islamic groups have brought upon the city, including a spike in birth defects, regular deadly mine explosions, as well as entrenched checkpoints.April 28 marks the 15th anniversary of what has become known as the Fallujah killings. On the same day in 2003, at least 20 civilians were killed when US soldiers opened fire during a protest march that civilians went ahead with despite a curfew imposed by the US military. The event marked a turning point in the history of the city, located 65 kilometers west of Baghdad. In the following months, Fallujah saw two massive US-led operations against insurgents.In the aftermath of the war, the city saw a significant rise in cases of cancer and birth defects. Research, including the epidemiological study 'Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005 - 2009' by Busby, Hamdan and Ariabi, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, has linked this increase to the bombardments during which chemical weapons could have been used.The Second Battle of Fallujah, code named 'Operation Phantom Fury' was launched by the US and its allies in November 2004. Later, US forces admitted that they used white phosphorus during the operation, but US Central Command (CENTCOM) has denied using depleted uranium munitions in the same operation. In 2014, US organisations Center for Constitutional Rights and Iraq Veterans Against the War, which counts veterans who fought in Fallujah among its members, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Defence. The purpose was to get more information about the use of depleted uranium in Iraq to better assess possible consequences for their own health as well as that of Iraqi civilians.Seven-year-old Fatima Shehab was born with her hands and feet severely deformed. "At first I had a few miscarriages, then I had Fatima," said the girl's mother. "When she was born we found that she had defects in her extremities, in the hands and feet. The doctors discovered that it was a result of the phosphorus which was used by the Americans," she explained.Dr. Samira al-Ani, a pediatrician who heads the local council studying birth defects following the battles of Fallujah, explained that certified German labs "found uranium, mercury and other pollutants" in analysed samples.Following the 2011 withdrawal of the last US troops from Iraq, the insurgency intensified and Fallujah became the first city to fall to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and affiliated groups. A full-blown civil war ensued. It wasn't until June 2016 that Fallujah was finally recaptured by the Iraqi Army. Almost two years later, Iraqi soldiers still control traffic into and out of Fallujah through the al-Suqoor checkpoint. Residents including local merchants express frustration at the delays caused by the strict controls which are still in place.Security forces "go into the trucks, turn all the boxes over, they walk all over the fruit," said fruit seller Abu Seif. "It's easier to come through with drugs." "They charge us custom fares, we pay taxes and also waste time at the checkpoint, maybe a whole day more, so the fruit starts to go bad and it's the people who pay the price," complained another merchant.Checkpoints leading to delays and financial losses are not the only daily reminder of the bloody battles which scarred Fallujah. The city has still not been fully cleared of the mines and explosives that IS planted at the height of its battles with the Iraqi security forces and there are often reports of injuries or even deaths."We came back from the [IDP] camp to Fallujah, they told us that Fallujah and its suburbs are all clean from IEDs, we came back on the road, and came back to clean. As we were cleaning the house an IED went of and killed my sister and my sister-in-law," said Fallujah resident Fouad Khalaf.Others complain that authorities do not pay enough attention to the issue. "Look at these flags all over the place, we can't walk here, the area is dangerous, soldiers come here, explode two to three bombs and they leave, this area behind me is closed off, where the flags are," said resident Faisal Ibrahim. As Fallujah residents struggle to rebuild their lives after 15 years of bloodshed, a council of imams called Ribat al-Mohammadi, are doing their part to bridge the sectarian divide and bring society back together. "The real Fallujah was taken from its people, it was taken many times - in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2014 - it was taken from its people, and it was given a bad name in the media, it was presented as a place that was creating terrorism, and even exporting terrorism," said Sheikh Mohamed Nouri from the Rabat al-Mohammadi council. "The real Fallujah is not like that, the real Fallujah is known for its libraries, it is known for the generosity of its people, their kindness, their heritage."Ribat al-Mohammadi started their work in 2007, spreading the message of moderate Islam. Under IS, their mosques were attacked and the scholars had to leave Fallujah for Haditha, where they took up weapons and then fought against IS militants under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces."Now in Iraq, the cities have been liberated, yes, militarily, but there is still a lot of work to do by the Iraqi government and security apparatus," said Sheikh al-Nouri. "But the Iraqi nation is also facing a huge undertaking of ideological work [against extremism]. It will take years and years, in my opinion, to reach true stability, which is the foundation on which nations are built."

C/U Fatima Shehab, Fallujah child born with birth defects

C/U Fatima's hands

M/S Fatima's feet, Fatima's mother preparing her for school

SOT, Fatima Shehab (Arabic): "My wish is to do well at school and get full marks, to become a doctor so I can fix my hands."

C/U Fatima's mother doing her hair

C/U Fatima's hands

SOT, Um Fatima, Fatima Shehab's mother (Arabic): "The story begins with the attack on Fallujah, when the Americans attacked. At first I had a few miscarriages, and then I had Fatima. When she was born we found that she had defects in her extremities, in the hands and feet. The doctors discovered that it was a result of the phosphorus which was used by the Americans."

M/S Fatima's mother preparing her for school

M/S Fatima and her mother exiting room

W/S Fatima and her mother crossing courtyard

M/S Fatima's mother kissing her goodbye

M/S Fatima walking

W/S Fallujah street

M/S Minarets

W/S School courtyard

M/S Schoolchildren

C/U Teacher indicating letters on whiteboard

M/S Teacher indicating letters on whiteboard

W/S Teacher teaching class

M/S Schoolchildren

C/U Schoolchild writing

M/S Fatima in class

M/S Fatima in class

C/U Fatima writing

M/S Fatima writing

C/U Fatima writing

SOT, Boushra Taha Kathim, Fatima's teacher (Arabic): "We have this student, Fatima, who is in first grade. She suffers from birth defects due to the war and the white phosphorus used by the Americans."

C/U Fatima

C/U Fatima's hand

C/U Fatima's hand

SOT, Boushra Taha Kathim, Fatima's teacher (Arabic): "She is a very good student in spite of her handicap. When she writes on the board or in her notebook it is very neat. She is one of our best students."

M/S Fatima writing on whiteboard

C/U Fatima writing on whiteboard

SOT, Boushra Taha Kathim, Fatima's teacher (Arabic): "This year, she hasn't been bullied by her colleagues. On the contrary, teachers and students are very supportive of her, but we are trying to find an organisation that can help her, because of the condition from which she suffers in her hands and feet."

W/S Schoolchildren applauding Fatima

W/S Hospital

W/S Women and child in hospital

W/S People in hospital

W/S People in hospital

M/S Doctors in hospital

SOT, Dr. Samira al-Ani, Paediatrician, Head of Council of Birth Defects following The War in Fallujah (Arabic): "I have made a study based on samples [from children born with disabilities]. We analysed them in certified German labs, which are unbiased and have nothing to do with any political party. They found uranium, mercury and other pollutants."

W/S Hospital

W/S Fallujah street

M/S Checkpoint

M/S Checkpoint

M/S Checkpoint

W/S Checkpoint

M/S Checkpoint

W/S Checkpoint

M/S Checkpoint

M/S Market

W/S Market

M/S Market produce

M/S Man and child at market

W/S Market produce

W/S Market workers offloading supplies from truck

SOT Abu-Seif, Fruit seller (Arabic): "They [security forces] go into the trucks, turn all the boxes over, they walk all over the fruit. It's easier to come through with drugs. They let alcohol pass and not fruit, because they say that fruit is forbidden."

M/S Men loading produce onto truck

W/S Men loading produce onto truck

SOT, Fruit seller (Arabic): "We buy supplies from the north, and when we come we pass through the al-Safra checkpoint. They charge us custom fares, we pay taxes, and also waste time at the checkpoint, maybe a whole day more, so the fruit starts to go bad, and it is the people who pay the price. If a kilogram costs 400 [Dinars], then between the taxes and the wasted time, another 200 [Dinars] is added, so it becomes 600 [Dinars]. All of this falls on to the consumer, all because of the al-Safra checkpoint."

W/S Market

W/S Market

W/S War-torn neighbourhood

W/S Men in front of gate

M/S Man in front of rubble

W/S Rubble of collapsed building

W/S Rubble of collapsed building

SOT, Fouad Khalaf, Fallujah resident (Arabic): "We came back from the camp to Fallujah, they told us that Fallujah and its suburbs are all clean from IEDs [Improvised explosive devices]. We came back on the road and came back to clean. As we were cleaning the house, an IED went of and killed my sister and my sister-in-law."

W/S Rubble of collapsed building *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Fouad Khalaf, Fallujah resident (Arabic): "The area is destroyed, it is not a place anyone would want to come back to, and we are the only ones with this house. We use this road to come in and out, that's it, we don't go anywhere else, the area is full of bombs."

W/S Collapsed house *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Faisal Ibrahim, Fallujah resident (Arabic): "This neighbourhood went through a lot, this house lost two women, I lost a son, and the other one became crippled. We haven't see anyone in charge pass by here and ask about us or offer condolences."

C/U Ibrahim's eyes *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Faisal Ibrahim, Fallujah resident (Arabic): "Look at these flags all over the place, we can't walk here, the area is dangerous. Soldiers come here, explode two, three bombs and they leave. This area behind me is closed off, where the flags are. People are trying to get home but they can't."

M/S Child next to rubble

W/S War-torn neighbourhood

C/U Man praying in mosque

M/S Sheikh Mohamed Nouri giving sermon in mosque

W/S Sheikh Mohamed Nouri giving sermon

M/S Islamic scholars from different sects attending sermon

W/S People attending sermon

C/U Sheikh Nouri sitting with other scholars

SOT, Sheikh Mohamed Nouri, Council of Scholars of Ribat al-Mohammadi (Arabic): "Now in Iraq, the cities have been liberated, yes, militarily, but there is still a lot of work to do by the Iraqi government and security apparatus. The Iraqi nation is also facing a huge undertaking of ideological work [against extremism]. It will take years and years, in my opinion, to reach true stability, which is the foundation on which nations are built."

C/U Sheikh Nouri's hands *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Sheikh Mohamed Nouri, Council of Scholars of Ribat al-Mohammadi (Arabic): "The real Fallujah was taken from its people, it was taken many times - in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2014 - it was taken from its people, and it was given a bad name in the media. It was presented as a place that was creating terrorism, and even exporting terrorism. But the real Fallujah is not like that, the real Fallujah is known through its libraries, it is known through the generosity of its people, their kindness, and their good roots. Fallujah in its truth loves peace, it doesn't love war."

W/S Mosque

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