Doctors and officials in Fallujah are appealing to the international community for an investigation into the unnatural increase in birth defects, 5 years after two major battles between the U.S. military and Sunni militia groups took place there.

The war-ravaged population center has seen an increase of up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants since pre-war levels, according to a report by the UK's Guardian. Documented statistics for birth defects in Fallujah have only emerged in recent months, but the rate of abormalities, including early-life cancers, is high enough to cause alarm at Fallujah's General Hospital.

"We are seeing a very significant increase in central nervous system anomalies," the hospital's director, Dr Ayman Qais, told the Guardian. "Before 2003 I was seeing sporadic numbers of deformities in babies. Now the frequency of deformities has increased dramatically."

"Most are in the head and spinal cord, but there are also many deficiencies in lower limbs," he said. "There is also a very marked increase in the number of cases of less than two years with brain tumors. This is now a focus area of multiple tumors."

Fallujah was the site of the only two 'set-piece' battles to take place after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. Fighter jets bombed the city and heavy artillery was used in conjunction with the controversial incendiary white phosphorus.

Samira Abdul Ghani, a pediatrician, was asked by The Guardian to keep track of all birth defects for a three-week period at Fallujah General Hospital. In that time alone, 37 infants were born with anomalies, many of them with neural tube defects.

A neural tube defect is an opening in the spinal cord or brain that occurs very early in human development. 1 in 1,000 babies born in America suffer from neural tube defects.

Dr. Bassam Allah, head of Fallujah's children's ward, urged international agencies last week to start taking soil samples and investigating the abnormal births.

UPI reports that Basra and Najaf, cities similarly racked by heavy fighting, have also seen sharp increases in the number of birth defects.

The Guardian's video investigation can be found here.