History of the Iraq War, Part XVIII: Iraqi Children, Health and Education

Child Born with Birth Defects after American Use of Chemical and Radiological Weapons in Falluhaj (Fisk, 2012)

Of the living, the innocent children of Iraq have borne the heaviest and most tragic burden. Seventy percent of primary school pupils suffer symptoms of trauma-related stress such as bed-wetting or stuttering (Sassoon, 2009, p. 29). In 2006, the Association of Iraqi Psychologists estimated that more than 90% of Iraqi children had learning difficulties, primarily due to the war (World Health Organization, 2006, p. 29), while Oxfam (2007, p. 3) noted that child malnutrition rates rose from 19 percent before the invasion to 28 percent. From 2006 to 2007, school attendance was more than halved, from 75 percent to 30 percent (Baker, Ismael & Ismael, 2010, p. 130). Child mortality (<5 years) has doubled from one in sixteen before the war to one in eight (Sassoon, 2009, p. 18).

The chemical and radiological weapons, particularly white phosphorous and depleted uranium rounds, used by the United States military during the war have almost certainly caused severe birth defects in the infants of Fallujah, and presumably elsewhere. The increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukemia are greater than those suffered by survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan (Fisk, 2012). Samira Alani, a pediatrician at Fallujah General Hospital, has recorded 669 cases of birth defects from October 2009 to December 2011. Most of these deformities are fatal within one month postpartum. Depleted uranium has also been linked to sharply increasing cancer incidence in that city (Jamail, 2012).

The once vibrant health system is no longer recognizable and has been turned into the province of death squads and living nightmares. Sassoon (2009, p. 19) states that:

"Some of the ‘officials’ trusted with taking care of the health of the people were arrested for the killing and kidnapping of hundreds of Sunnis, ‘many of them snatched from hospitals by militias.’…Hospitals had been turned into hunting grounds for Shi’i militias determined to spread fear among local Sunnis and drive them out of the capital."
Seventy percent of Iraqi doctors have fled (Jamail, 2009) and less than one hundred psychiatrists remain nationwide (Leland, 2010).

The destruction of the Iraqi intellectual class is recorded in the aforementioned heroic collection of essays (Baker, Ismael and Ismael, 2010; see “Iraqi Unions: Resistance and Counterinsurgency”). The authors describe the campaign of assassinations against medical personnel and other intellectuals in Iraq. In the first five years of the invasion, more than eighty faculty members at the prestigious University of Baghdad were murdered (p. 129), and a total of between 400 and 1,000 academics nationwide. Of the causes of death that have been identified, 54% are due to small-arms fire at close range. Survivor and eyewitness accounts of assassinations reveal that victims are usually murdered or kidnapped by a group of Iraqi men, often in police or interior ministry uniforms, arriving in cars while the targets are in transit between home and work. The authors report that the killers operate with impunity and are not apprehended, providing strong evidence for clandestine support from American and Iraqi intelligence (pp. 149-172).


Baker, Raymond, Shereen Ismael and Tareq Ismael (ed.). 2010. Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why Museums Were Looted, Libraries Burned and Academics Murdered. Pluto Press.

Fisk, Robert. April 25, 2012. “The Children of Fallujah – Sayef’s Story.” Independent (UK).

Jamail, Dahr. February 21, 2009. “Doctors in Hiding Treat as They Can.” Inter Press Service.

Leland, John. January 30, 2010. “Iraq Mends a System to Treat Trauma.” New York Times.

Oxfam. July, 2007. “Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in Iraq.” http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/Rising%20to%20the%20humanitarian%20challenge%20in%20Iraq.pdf.

Sassoon, Joseph. 2009. The Iraqi Refugees: The New Crisis in the Middle East. International Library of Migration Studies. IB Tauris.

World Health Organization. 2006. “Social Determinants of Health in Countries in Conflict.”

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