For little Sayef, there will be no Arab Spring. He lies, just 14 months old, on a small red blanket cushioned by a cheap mattress on the floor, occasionally crying, his head twice the size it should be, blind and paralysed. Sayeffedin Abdulaziz Mohamed – his full name – has a kind face in his outsized head and they say he smiles when other children visit and when Iraqi families and neighbours come into the room.
But he will never know the history of the world around him, never enjoy the freedoms of a new Middle East. He can move only his hands and take only bottled milk because he cannot swallow. He is already almost too heavy for his father to carry. He lives in a prison whose doors will remain forever closed.
It's as difficult to write this kind of report as it is to understand the courage of his family. Many of the Fallujah families whose children have been born with what doctors call "congenital birth anomalies" prefer to keep their doors closed to strangers, regarding their children as a mark of personal shame rather than possible proof that something terrible took place here after the two great American battles against insurgents in the city in 2004, and another conflict in 2007.
After at first denying the use of phosphorous shells during the second battle of Fallujah, US forces later admitted that they had fired the munitions against buildings in the city. Independent reports have spoken of a birth-defect rate in Fallujah far higher than other areas of Iraq, let alone other Arab countries. No one, of course, can produce cast-iron evidence that American munitions have caused the tragedy of Fallujah's children.
Sayef lives in the al-Shahada district of Fallujah, in one of the more dangerous streets in the city. The cops stand with their automatic weapons at the door of Sayef's home when we visit, but two come inside with us and are visibly moved by the helpless baby on the floor, shaking their heads in disbelief and with a hopelessness which his father, Mohamed, refuses to betray.
"I think all this is because of the use by the Americans of phosphorous in the two big battles," he says. "I have heard of so many cases of congenital birth defects in children. There has to be a reason. When my child first went to the hospital, I saw families there with exactly the same problems."
Studies since the 2004 Fallujah battles have recorded profound increases in infant mortality and cancer; the latest report, whose authors include a doctor at Fallujah General Hospital, says that congenital malformations account for 15 per cent of all births in Fallujah.
Both Mohamed and his wife are in their mid-thirties. Unlike many tribal families in the area, neither are related and their two daughters, born before the battles of Fallujah, are in perfect health. Sayef was born on 27 January, 2011. "My two daughters like their brother very much," Mohamed adds, "and even the doctors like him... Dr Abdul-Wahab Saleh has done some amazing work – Sayef would not be alive without him."
Mohamed works for an irrigation mechanics company but admits that, with a salary of only $100 a month, he receives financial help from relatives. He was outside Fallujah during the conflict but returned two months after the second battle only to find his house mined; he received funding to rebuild his home in 2006.
I ask whom he blames for Sayef's little calvary. He is silent for a few moments. "I am only asking for help from God," he says. "I don't expect help from any other human being."Reuse content