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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 14:40 GMT
Iraqi alarm over DU ammunition
The Cancer Hospital in Basra
This boy has advanced bone marrow cancer
By Barbara Plett in Basra

Ten years on from the Gulf War, Iraq is hoping that the West will start paying attention to its contaminated battlefields.

The controversy over depleted uranium ammunition used by Nato in the Balkans has also highlighted growing health problems in Iraq.

Similar weapons were used by the US-led coalition that drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

The southern city of Basra near the Kuwait border has suffered the most from a dramatic rise in cancer and birth defects.

We hadn't got cancer at all before the 1991 aggression, and the increase happened just after the aggression, and after the use of depleted uranium.

Dr Jawad
Dr Jawad, who works at the Cancer Hospital in Basra, says the rate of cancer has increased nine-fold since the Gulf War.


There are also birth defects not seen in Iraq before, and other diseases associated with exposure to radiation.

The Gulf War was the first time that depleted uranium weapons were used in conflict.

DU bullets are cheap and virtually guaranteed to pierce any armour.

The allied forces fired at least 300 tonnes of it, littering the battlefield with residue that could remain radioactive for an immense period of time.

The US has denied there are any links with cancer, but now Baghdad feels it may finally get a hearing because of the Balkans controversy.

Iraq's demands

Isolating depleted uranium as the sole cause of any illness is difficult because the battlefield was a toxic soup of dangerous pollutants.

A patient in Basra
The rate of cancer has reportedly increased
Iraq itself still has to account to the UN for an alleged store of chemical and biological weapons.

But it is turning the tables now by making its own demands.

Dr Sami al Arag, a scientist on a government panel studying the war's aftermath, believes that Iraq has the right to compensation.

"The people who have caused this damage to Iraq should be punished," he says.

For many years we talk and talk and they say this is Iraqi propaganda. Now when the Italians are talking, the French, the Belgians, the Hungarians and so on - do they also answer them that this is Iraqi propaganda?

Dr Sami al Arag

People in Basra live 70km from the old battlefield, but they buy vegetables grown near contaminated areas.

They breath air and drink water that could be polluted with radioactive particles.

The World Health Organisation is planning a study now to assess the risk of depleted uranium on exposed populations.

Dr. Jawad continues to care for his patients, but he's also thinking of his own safety.

"Certainly I am worried about my health and my family and my children, as everybody here in Basra. Nobody is spared, nobody," he said.

People here just want to know why they are getting sick and whether it can be stopped.

If the culprit is depleted uranium they are probably out of luck because any clean up would take a very long time and cost a lot of money.

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14 Jan 01 | Europe
12 Jan 01 | Europe
15 Jan 01 | Americas
12 Jan 01 | UK
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