Iraqi doctors reportedly warn women not to have children; Doctors pressured not to 'embarrass the United States': claim

Birth defects in the Iraqi city of Fallujah have soared in recent years, with doctors saying advanced US weaponry such as white phosphorous and depleted uranium shells may have caused a "massive, unprecedented number" of congenital health problems.

A BBC investigative report has found that the incidence of birth defects in Fallujah has reached a rate 13 times higher than that found in Europe. One doctor at a US-built hospital in the city says the number of birth defects has spiked from one or two per month prior to the Iraq war to two or three per day today.

"I am a doctor. I have to be scientific in my talk. I have nothing documented. But I can tell you that year by year, the number [is] increasing," Dr. Samira al-Ani told the BBC.

Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, was the site of a brutal 2004 battle that was arguably the largest campaign of the Iraq war.

The Pentagon admitted in 2005 that it had used white phosphorous munitions during the battle, as well as depleted uranium shells, which contain radioactive material.

BBC world affairs editor John Simpson said the Fallujah hospital's maternity ward is "absolutely packed" with babies suffering from congenital heart defects. He says he was shown a picture of a three-headed baby, and saw children suffering from paralysis and brain damage.

Researcher Malik Hamdan told the BBC he had seen footage of "babies born with an eye in the middle of the forehead, the nose on the forehead."

Iraqi officials 'anxious not to embarrass the Americans'

Simpson admits he can point to no concrete evidence of a spike in birth defects -- principally because no study has ever been carried out on the situation in Fallujah.

And he reports that the Iraqi government is seeking to downplay the medical problems. Simpson says the Fallujah doctors who raised the alarm about birth defects were "well aware that what they said went against the government version, and we were told privately that the Iraqi authorities are anxious not to embarrass the Americans over the issue."

Simpson further reported that he had "heard many times" that women in Fallujah were being warned not to have children.

A report at the UK's Guardian last fall stated that the rise in birth defects "may be linked to toxic materials left over from the fighting," but, lacking further research, the increase is "unprecedented and at present unexplainable."

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

Fallujah is not the only place in Iraq where medical researchers are alarmed by high rates of childhood disease that they believe may be linked to the war.

US and Canadian researchers have found that leukemia in children has nearly tripled in the southern city of Basra over the past 15 years. Basra was the site of armed conflict even before the US invasion, and was a frequent site of violence during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. But much of the increase in leukemia came in the three years after the 2003 US invasion, the researchers found.

"It's impossible to say without further study why (rates in Basra) are going up," researcher Tim Takaro said. "But this may be an unintended result of armed conflict."