Birth defects and rubble still scar Iraq's Falluja

Wed Dec 7, 2011 9:12am EST
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By Waleed Ibrahim

FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) - As U.S. forces pull out of Iraq, residents and officials in Falluja say they leave behind bullet-riddled homes, destroyed infrastructure and a worrying increase in birth defects and maladies in a city polluted by weapons and war chemicals.

Amir Hussain and Awfa Abdullah got married in Falluja in 2004 but their lives were turned upside by the birth of their two babies.

Their first child, a baby boy born in 2006, had brain damage and died last year. The second, a baby girl who was born in 2007, suffers from severe skin rashes and has one leg longer than the other.

"We've decided to stop having babies. We don't want any more, because it means new suffering and a new battle against new diseases," Hussain said. "It is our bad luck. Maybe because we got married in the wrong time and in the wrong place."

Falluja, in the desert province of Anbar, served as a base for Iraqi fighters after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, and witnessed two major conflicts in 2004. U.S. troops used overwhelming force, tanks, fighter jets and helicopter gunships to crush insurgents there.

Falluja's residents await the U.S. withdrawal by year-end with a mixture of relief and fear that al Qaeda militants might return. Some are still seeking compensation for the suffering they endured.

At Falluja Hospital, pediatrician Samira al-Ani said the most insidious legacy of the war is seen every day in a startling increase in deformed newborns since 2005.

"Unfortunately, we don't have documentation. But before the war, we used to receive two or three cases in a week," said Ani, who has worked at the hospital since 1997. "On October 11 alone, we had 12 different types of deformed births."   Continued...

<p>A building that collapsed during a battle is seen in Falluja city, 50 km (31 miles) west of Baghdad December 5, 2011. REUTERS/Mohanned Faisal</p>