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War May Be Tied to Dramatic Increase in Birth Defects in Iraq

Update Date: Mar 25, 2013 12:25 PM EDT

Five-year-old Mohammad is the youngest of eight siblings, but will never play soccer with them. That is because he was born missing several vertebrae, as well as some nerve and foot deformities.

Baby Zeina keeps trying to grab things with her left hand. Though she has a tough grip with her right, she will never be able to clutch things with her left fist - because it is not there.

One patient suffered from 19 miscarriages.

The troops may have withdrawn from Iraq, but the effects of the war may still be lingering for many Iraq couples. Researchers have estimated that 15 percent of births in Iraq are affected by congenital abnormalities, compared to just three percent in the United States. Though researchers believe that these births are tied to the chemicals used during warfare, though the theory has met with some skepticism.

According to ABC News, there has been a rise in congenital abnormalities in infants born in Iraq, many of them so bad that the babies do not live to see their first birthday. Researchers believe that many of the infants born with spinal bifida, brain damage and congenital heart defects were impacted by the cancer-causing chemicals - lead, mercury, uranium - in their parents' hair, nails and teeth. Many of those same chemicals are used extensively in war.

In 2010, after analyzing 700 households, researchers found that the incidences of cancer had quadrupled in Fallujah, the site of two major offensives for the war, KPLC TV reports. The researchers had found that there had also been a significant rise in the number of newborns with genetic abnormalities.

Fallujah's own General Hospital has found that 10 percent of births are of babies born with congenital abnormalities. Researchers believe that number may be a low estimate, because the problem may be hidden. Many families opt for home births, and congenital defects are seen as a source of shame in many Iraqi households - making it difficult for them to participate in such studies.

However, the United States' Defense Department believes that there is not enough evidence conclusively linking war pollutants and the birth defects. They charge that researchers did not establish whether mothers received proper medical care during their pregnancy or adequate nutrition. They did not always consider whether the parents were cousins. Some suggest that the rise may be linked to delayed effects of sanctions under the regime of former leader Saddam Hussein.

The Federal Ministry of Health of Iraq and the World Health Organization have yet to release the findings of their joint study.

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