A recent article by the BBC has brought attention to the abnormally high level of birth defects around Fallujah, Iraq.
A mere 40 miles from Baghdad, Fallujah was the site of some of the most intense fighting during the early stages of the war in 2004-2005. Five years after the major fighting there subsided, hospitals in the area said they have been witnessing unusual spikes in the rate of birth defects.
Reports have come through of newborn babies with missing or extra limbs, missing or additional extremities, misplaced external organs like eyes and life-threatening cardiac issues. One particularly heart-wrenching case includes a baby boy born with two extra heads. A Google image search reveals the horrific truth of these cases more clearly than words themselves could ever attempt to, but I can't recommend it for the light-hearted.
Information about these deformities is all strictly off-the-record. Iraqi officials discourage hospital employees from including these incidents in official reports, as they don't wish to aggravate a potential cause of the problem - the United States military.
During combat operations in and around Fallujah, U.S. ground forces made use of Depleted Uranium shells. Standard shells tipped with DU become incredibly more effective armor-piercing munitions. The hardness of Uranium makes mincemeat of many forms of armor. They are a brilliant example of modern military science in action.
These shells, although depleted, remain radioactive. They stay in the environment in which they're used, finding their way into groundwater and into rivers, contaminating the drinking supply. While no research has been done to link DU use to Fallujah's spike in birth defects, it is not a stretch of the imagination to see the potential link.
U.S. military brass and the Iraqi government must allow the proper research to be conducted regarding DU and abnormally high birth defects in former combat zones. It's incredibly frustrating to see history repeat itself so tragically - after reading the details of DU use, it's hard not to make the link to Agent Orange, the chemical which wreaked havoc on both Vietnamese and American combatants some forty years ago in Southeast Asia. A scientific analysis of the potential link between DU use and birth defects is a critical first step in understanding the problem and putting it to an end.
DU should go the way of the landmine. While they're both effective weapons in terms of immediate battlefield stratagem, they are harmful in post-conflict reconstruction efforts. The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty is a multilateral agreement to ban the use of landmines for exactly that reason. Sadly, the U.S. has yet still to sign that document, but I feel the new administration should and will change that in due time.
The U.S. needs to realize that, like landmines, DU has absolutely abhorrent effects on a society after a conflict has ended. Using them in an environment where the U.S. knew it would be involved in a state building operation was a costly and unintelligent decision. The U.S. should take a leadership role in setting an international norm of non-use, before DU becomes standard practice in conflicts. The inhuman impact of DU is just too devastating to continue to allow its use.