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Iraq birth defect data petition reaches 14000 as ex-UN Iraq Coordinator signs

A petition launched by a Fallujah paediatrician calling for the WHO and Iraqi Ministry of Health to release data held on rates of birth defects linked to the 2003 war for independent analysis has reached 14000 signatures and has been supported by the former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq.
12 August 2013


The results from the nationwide study, undertaken by the Iraqi Ministry of Health (MoH) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2012, are now long overdue. Iraqi researchers interviewed by the BBC earlier this year claimed it will link increased incidence rates of birth defects with areas subject to heavy fighting in the 2003 war – a hugely significant and politically sensitive conclusion.

Signing the petition, the former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Hans von Sponeck said: The congenital defects research carried out in Fallujah is a crucial part of research in Iraq of the effects of foreign munitions illegally used against Iraq's civilian population. WHO must be told it cannot again evade its responsibilities to publish the data it has.”  

Fallujah paediatrician Dr Samira Alaani is calling for the data to be released for independent peer review after persistent delays from the WHO and MoH in the analysis of the data. Independent scrutiny of the data would help allay fears that the WHO’s internal process has been subject to politicisation because of the controversial nature of the study. The research was prompted by concerns from maternity hospitals across Iraq that rates of congenital birth defects were unusually high. This is the first time that rates have been recorded and analysed nationwide.

We began logging these cases in 2006 and we have determined that 144 babies are born with a deformity for every 1000 live births. We believe it has to be related to contamination caused by the fighting in our city, even now, nearly 10 years later,” said Dr Samira Alaani, a paediatrician at Fallujah General Hospital. “It is not unique to Fallujah; hospitals throughout the Anbar Governorate and many other regions of Iraq are recording spiralling increases.”

The publication delays began to lengthen in March after BBC World broadcast interviews with Iraqi MoH staff, they acknowledged that the data would link increased rates with areas subject to heavy fighting in 2003. Academics around the globe subsequently submitted a petition calling for full disclosure. Since then, the WHO and MoH have introduced a series of procedural hurdles that have slowed down release of the results.

Rachel Thompson from the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium said “We are so pleased that Dr Alaani’s petition is garnering support from all over the world, this issue has been ignored for far too long. Iraqi families need answers and they need them now. It is time for the international community to start acting for Iraq.”

It is incredibly important for the Iraqi people that these data are published, and published in a swift and transparent manner,” said Doug Weir, Coordinator of the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons. “They are a crucial first step in helping to investigate, and ultimately reduce, the public health legacy from environmental contamination caused by the Iraq War 10 years ago. No more delays, independent peer review is the only way to ensure public confidence in the process.”  

If the results do link conflict pollution with birth defects it will prove uncomfortable reading for the US and its Coalition partners. Researchers have long argued that the dispersal of heavy metals and other toxic materials during conflict presents a long-term health threat to civilian health, particularly where environmental assessment and management is disrupted by post-conflict insecurity.

Other notable signatories include Professor Noam Chomsky, Ross Caputi, former US Marine who became conscientious objector following the first siege of Fallujah and former ANC politician Andrew Feinstein.



Notes for editors

Something is affecting Iraq’s children


BBC This World – Born Under a Bad Sign package – Yalda Hakim
Right click and Save As.  (383MB)
BBC World investigation into rates of birth defects in Iraq and a study by the Iraqi MoH and WHO that appears to link increased rates with areas subject to heavy fighting.
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WHO procedural delays


WHO: Congenital birth defect study in Iraq: frequently asked questions

March 10th 2013 via internet archive  

When will be the results of the study be launched and who will launch the study results?
The data collection process has been recently completed and the results are being analysed by the Ministry of Health and WHO. The data analysis process will conclude at the end of 2012 following which time the report writing process will start. The study results will be launched by the Ministry of Health. 


WHO: Congenital birth defect study in Iraq: frequently asked questions 

June 17th 2013 via internet archive 

When did the study begin and when the results will be out?

Discussion and preparation for the study started in mid-2011. Since the design of the study and agreeing on the scientific methodology required inputs from the best experts in the world, it took almost 10 months to develop the methodology, subject it to pilot-testing and make amendments after the pilot testing. The study started in May/June 2012 and the data collection process has been completed in the beginning of October 2012. Currently, data is being analyzed and final consolidation is being conducted by MOH and WHO experts. To that effect the steering committee from the government of Iraq and WHO is conducting a meeting of a group of experts in Geneva later in the month of June to review the initial data collected during the survey. The data collection for the study was completed by the Ministry of Health in the beginning of this year and initial data consolidation started in May in collaboration with WHO. The meeting will also discuss the next steps in finalizing and disseminating the results.


WHO: Congenital birth defect study in Iraq: frequently asked questions

26th July 2013 

When did the study begin and when the results will be out?

Discussion and preparation for the study started in mid-2011. Since the design of the study and agreeing on the scientific methodology required inputs from the best experts in the world, it took almost 10 months to develop the methodology, subject it to pilot-testing and make amendments after the pilot testing. The study was started in May/June 2012. The step of data collection was completed earlier this year and the analysis of that preliminary data is now underway. This included the work to validate the data collected and correct any coding errors . In a study this large that process can take several months to complete.

On 25 June, a meeting was held with high level authorities of the Iraqi Ministry of Health to review initial analysis of the data. It was established that this large data set has a great deal of potentially valuable information and that additional analyses not originally conceived of should be done. Finally, in addition to further analyses, it was determined the work should also undergo the scientific standard of peer review. A team of independent scientists is now being recruited to review the planned analyses. Preparation for that meeting is underway now. A summary report of that meeting and key findings from the analysis will be released by the Government of Iraq soon after these steps are completed. Further detailed analysis may be carried out after that initial release, depending on the findings of the results and interests of the wider scientific community.



Are depleted uranium weapons the cause?

  • DU weapons are radioactive and chemically toxic. They are armour piercing weapons that release a toxic and radioactive dust upon hitting a hard target. Laboratory studies have shown that exposure to DU dust can lead to genetic mutations, which increases the risk of cancer and birth defects.  
  • Because the MOH/WHO study will only assess the magnitude and trend of birth defects, it will not provide a causal link to any specific military material, including DU weapons.  
  • As researchers who compiled the data have already stated that high rates of birth defects are associated with areas of heavy fighting, DU must be considered as a potential risk factor. 
  • The US has refused to disclose where it used DU in 1991 and 2003, this has hampered efforts to decontaminate areas. In December 2012, 155 states backed a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a precautionary approach to the weapons and reiterating previous calls for greater transparency over where and how much been fired to facilitate remediation. Only the UK, US, France and Israel opposed the resolution. 
  • A report published earlier this year and reported in The Guardian estimated that the clean-up of known sites with DU contamination in Iraq would cost at least US$30m. The report provided evidence of DU use again non-armoured targets and in civilian areas and highlighted the problem of the trade in contaminated scrap metal.  


Modern warfare’s toxic footprint

  • Bullets, explosive weapons, obscurants, propellants and other military materials can include a variety of toxic substances. For example, heavy metals such as lead, mercury and DU, persistent organic pollutants such as trichloroethylene and PCBs and certain explosives. These substances, alongside building materials such as asbestos are released into the environment during the bombardment of towns and cities. The bombing and looting of industrial sites is also likely to cause high levels of contamination which can pose a risk to public health.
  • Militaries argue that they need ‘reliable evidence’ to prove that conflict causes long term health problems. However, when there is uncertainty, the burden of proof should be on the military to prove that there is no risk, rather than civil society having to prove that a weapon or practice is harmful.


PLoS One journal

  • About page
  • PLOS ONE (eISSN-1932-6203) is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication. PLOS ONE welcomes reports on primary research from any scientific discipline.
  • It provides: Open-access—freely accessible online, authors retain copyright, fast publication times, peer review by expert, practicing researchers.

Available via  #Act4Iraq

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For more information and interviews please contact Rachel Thompson on +44 (0) 770 641 3962 or Doug Weir on +44 (0) 7928 560 629