LEMONDE.FR | 10.06.11 | 20h48 • Mis à jour le 10.06.11 | 21h02
"Did the American army use nuclear weapons in Iraq?" This is the surprising question raised by France Info on Friday June 10. In partnership with Paris-Match, Angélique Férat, radio correspondent for the area, returned to the city of Fallujah, about fifty kilometers from Baghdad. The city, a stronghold of the Sunni insurrection, was attacked and partially destroyed by American forces in April 2004 and again in November the same year. Since then the city has seen a very high number of birth defects - so much so that, according to Angélique Férat, "almost every family has its own 'monster baby'". The Iraqi authorities refuse to consider the subject and there are no official statistics.
Ms. Férat is not the first journalist to consider the fate of the city's children. In May 2008, the British television channel Sky News sounded an alarm about the rate of congenital malformations there. An official of a local human rights organisation spoke of 200 cases of congenital malformations, the majority of which happened after the bombardment of the city. In November 2009 the British daily newspaper The Guardian ran two articles a photo collection and a video report.. The newspaper summarised information collected by a Fallujah hospital paediatrician who saw 37 malformed babies born in less than three weeks. The mother of three children between three and six years old said they were all unable to walk or feed themselves.
This is incomprehensible to the hospital's doctors. For lack of evidence, they refuse to draw a direct link with the combat which touched the city in 2004. According to them, multiple factors can explain these malformations: air pollution, radiation, chemical pollutants, the drugs used during pregnancy, malnutrition or stress in the mother. In March 2010, it was a BBC journalist's turn to go (video and report). After seeing a photograph of a baby with three heads he said "When you are over there, the evidence is ghastly."
In normal circumstances, the probability of such phenomena is zero
The various reports attracted the attention of scientists. Christopher Busby, director of environmental consultancy Green Audit and famous for his denunciation of weapons using depleted uranium, went to the site. With Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi he carried out a population survey based on a questionnaire. The results were published in July 2010 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (pdf). In the period 2006-2009, infant mortality in Falluja rose to 80 per 1000 births, while the rate in Egypt and Jordan stayed at 19,8 and 17 per 1000 respectively.
In December 2010, a new study carried out by another research team appeared in the same Journal. The results are eloquent: in Falluja, a newborn had eleven times more chance of being born with malformations than in the rest of the world. "It is important to understand that in normal circumstances, the probability of such phenomena is zero" explained Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the authors of the report. For May 2010, 15% of the 547 newborns presented serious deformities, while 11% were born prematurely (before thirty weeks of pregnancy). For the first time, this report clearly mentions the possibility that the genetic damage observed is related to the weapons used by the United States, and in particular depleted uranium.
Less radioactive than natural uranium, depleted uranium is a heavy metal and very dense. It is used in artillery shells to improve their penetrating ability. Like all heavy metals, it presents a toxic risk if it gets into the body or if its radiations penetrate the skin. Its military use is regularly denounced but no link with the children of Falluja has ever been proved.
Enriched Uranium? "It's absurd"
In the most recent study, soon to appear in the British scientific journal The Lancet, British scientist Christopher Busby goes further. He says traces of enriched uranium were found in samples of soil, air, water, and human hair. But Jean-Dominique Merchet, a journalist specializing in military issues and author of the blog Secret defence said that, unlike depleted uranium, enriched uranium is radioactive. "It has military uses in nuclear bombs and in propelling submarines or aircraft carriers. Using it on battle fields where your own soldiers are is absurd. Merchet also points out that there was a time when Saddam Hussein made use of deformities in young children. "He took journalists to visit orphanages where the children suffered from malformations", he remembers. So Merchet calls for caution until The Lancet article is published, and pending possible proof.
Translation by LLRC. 12th June 2011
New Scientist 6th September 2008 (pay per view) and complete article free to view
Ex-soldier died of cancer caused by Gulf War uranium .