It’s my birthday today (16th), and I would like to invite you to help me celebrate!
To be more specific there’s a gift I would love to receive above anything else: the chance to tell a story that urgently needs to be told, to give voice to those whose voices are rarely heard: the women and children of a dusty, war-torn Middle Eastern town struggling to survive a war that, for them, has never ended.
On the contrary, the war begins anew every day in the maternity ward of Fallujah City Hospital where gynaecologists say that on average three babies are born each day with severe deformities. That’s more than 1000 a year for what is now a relatively small town. Many babies are stillborn, others live a few hours, and the majority of those who survive will only live a few months such is the severity of their abnormalities. Fallujah cemetery is littered with tiny ‘baby’ graves. Others, who make it past their first birthday, will need intensive specialist care for the rest of their lives.
The medical recommendation of the gynaecologists to the women of Fallujah is simple: “just stop”. Stop having babies, stop falling pregnant because it is likely you will not give birth to a healthy baby.
These words carry a shocking implication: a whole generation of young women who will never be mothers, a whole generation of babies, little human beings, who will never see light, or laugh or feel love.
This is life now, in Fallujah - a once-thriving town the size of Newcastle or Wollongong. Once alive with growing families, bustling markets, ornate mosques, sporting fields, schools, industry and the famous ‘best falafel’ in all of Iraq.
Now the residents of this toxic, war-ravaged, virtual ghost-town are the ones who simply can’t afford to flee, or have nowhere else to go.
The dramatic rise in birth deformities in Fallujah began in 2005, a year after intense U.S military attacks on the city in April 2004 and again in November 2004. It is alleged that depleted uranium was used widely in the attacks as well as white phosphorous, and that the toxic nature of these substances and their subsequent contamination of the local eco-system, is the reason for the rise in birth abnormalities, as well as an increase in cancers and leukaemia amongst adults. This would seem a logical conclusion given the evidence we have on the impact of depleted uranium on human beings. But the U.S military has denied there is a problem, claiming there is no solid evidence of a link between its use of chemical weapons and the dramatic increase in birth deformities in Fallujah. It claims reports are anecdotal, that there are no accurate figures or research to respond to. So it refuses to respond - as does the World Health Organisation, despite pleading from Doctors, Iraqi and international human rights groups and medical NGOs around the world. At the same time, the military occupation makes it almost impossible for western researchers to go to Fallujah to do research. Despite this, one research team, led by UK scientist Prof Chris Busy, did get into the city and conducted a major survey, the results of which are confronting and demanding of a response by governments. The research, published this year in an international health journal, concluded that the birth defects and other health problems in Fallujah such as cancers and leukaemia are worse than in the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki following the use of atomic bombs there.
I repeat. The health problems in Fallujah are deemed worse than the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A copy of Prof Busby’s report can be found here:
News items and short docos on this issue can be found here:
You may have noticed this story has barely made it on to the radar of the Australian or U.S media. But I’m sure you agree it is a story that needs to be widely told and responded to with immediate action. The babies of Fallujah deserve justice and the women of Fallujah deserve hope.
That’s where you come into the picture. Dr Richard Hil, a semi-retired academic and author, and myself have decided to collaborate to tell the story of the babies of Fallujah from the point of view of the families themselves. We hope to produce a book, a documentary and resources to contribute to the world-wide campaign to ban depleted uranium weapons (DU) so that this can never happen again.
To do this we will need to go to Fallujah. The aim is to use the scientific data from Prof Busy and others, and humanise it through the stories of the children, the grief of the mothers, the struggle of the families and the views of the town elders. But, as you could imagine, getting into Fallujah will be a major logistical challenge, which is why we will need your help. The cost of the mission and the extra safety precautions we will need to take mean a very large budget that we cannot fund ourselves.
My first invitation to you is to help send Richard and I to Fallujah early next year to make this a reality. Together we can ensure this story is told. You are also invited to help with other needs for the campaign to ensure justice, accountability and an end to the use of DU weapons. We will need help with a website, lobbying of governments to achieve new U.N resolutions, distribution of information, graphic design, publicising the issues in your groups etc
More on that in due course, but first, for my birthday, you can give me the most useful present ever - please donate an amount that you can afford to an appeal that will support the logistics of this project: $20, $50 - if enough of you respond in a small way, it will be possible!
We believe this project can make an important contribution to the international campaign to ban depleted uranium. (We now have an international treaty banning cluster munitions; we can do the same for depleted uranium weapons). It can help ensure justice for Fallujah, and above all acknowledge the suffering of the people who are so often overlooked by our governments and corporate media. It will give us the chance, on behalf of all of you, to say “we are sorry, and we will work for change”.
For me this is personal. Many of you are aware of my intimate links with depleted uranium. My relationship with baby Noura, a DU baby I met in Baghdad in 2003 who was born with no arms and legs. She is just a torso and a head, but her smile and her energy has a profound effect on me. Then there was Arean: the girl from Basra I met in Baghdad Children’s hospital who was dying of leukaemia because of the use of depleted uranium in the 1991 Gulf War.
My interaction with her was powerful and sacred, something I will never forget. My book, Ordinary Courage, is dedicated to her memory because she helped me realise that all we have to do is what we can do. That will empower us when faced with shocking situations like this one.
I was present in Fallujah in April 2004 when the U.S attack was taking place and was an eye-witness to the massacre of civilians there.
And then there’s my exposure to depleted uranium during my time in Iraq which has affected my fertility options (explanation of this in the last section of my book).
The story of the Fallujah women is my story. Their babies are our babies.
Arean, a dying Iraqi girl, body riddled with leukaemia, gave me hope the day I met her because she taught me that although I could not save her, I should not cry for too long over what I cannot do. She encouraged me to think of what I can do....to think of who I am, and what I can actually do to contribute to change.
I am not a Doctor, but I have a notepad and camera. I am not a scientist but I can go to Fallujah, (I know the way), I can listen to the people there, I can help give them a voice. That’s what I can do.
And that’s just the start. With all of you, we’ll do much more than that.
PS: If you are able to contribute to my birthday wish, the bank account details are: Commonwealth Bank, a/c name: Donna Mulhearn – volunteer expenses, BSB: 062 181 a/c number: 1030 5704, or if you want to do the old fashioned cheque thing, reply to this email and I’ll send my address.
PPS: Dr Richard Hil is Honorary Associate in the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney. Richard has taught previously at Southern Cross University, Queensland University of Technology, University of the Sunshine Coast, James Cook University, and the University of York. He has published widely in the fields of criminology, child and family welfare, youth studies, and peace and conflict studies. He’s also a great guy with a big heart!
PPPS: More news soon on how to pressure the Australian government to support U.N resolutions which challenge the use of depleted uranium. At the last vote, they abstained, while 131 nations supported the resolution. The United States voted against the resolution. Why did we abstain?
PSx4: If you want to grab a copy of my book, you can now purchase one from me, so you don’t have to pay bookshop price ($32.95) rather my ‘mate’s’ price ($25). Just email back and I’ll post you out a copy, see www.ordinarycourage.org
PSx5: “When I saw her suffering it made me so depressed. I hated the world. I feel like I’m having a nervous breakdown. She stopped sleeping recently and cries with anger.” Mother of Baby Tiba from Fallujah, born with two heads, who has now passed away.