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Why are Iraq's children getting sick? By Matthew Hay Brown The Hartford Courant Friday, November 10, 2000 AL-QURNA, Iraq -- Athel Ahmed Ali was playing soccer for her middle school team when she first felt the soreness in her legs. When it didn't go away, her parents brought the dark-eyed 13-year-old to the doctor, who noted what has become a familiar litany of symptoms: progressive pallor, darkness of the mucous membranes, lips and tongue, swelling of the liver and spleen, easy bruising. A bone marrow expiation confirmed her family's worst fear: Athel had become the latest Iraqi child to develop acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Amid the typhoid, cholera, polio and other diseases that have made comebacks under war and sanctions, doctors in southern Iraq say the population is being stalked by a new enemy: radiation poisoning. Local studies indicate cancer rates in the region have more than doubled since the end of the Persian Gulf War and birth defects have nearly tripled. "You have in the United States what you call the Gulf War syndrome," says Dr. Alim A.H. Yacoub, dean of Basra Medical College. "Here we call it the Iraqi curse." Matter of controversy As in Gulf War syndrome, the cause of the malignancies and malformations has become a matter of controversy. U.S. officials suggest a variety of possibilities: chemical weapons deployed by Iraq against Iran in the 1980s and internal rebels in the 1990s, oil field fires set by Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait, malnutrition and pestilence under U.N. sanctions. But doctors and scientists in this totalitarian state, following their government's lead, have focused on an American culprit: the low-level, long-lasting radiation emitted by depleted uranium, the hard metal used in tank-busting ammunition fired in combat for the first time by U.S. troops during the Gulf War. The U.S. military, which used the ammunition again in the Kosovo conflict last year, says the link is unproved and unlikely. Defense Department officials cite government studies indicating that exposed U.S. veterans have not suffered from abnormally high rates of cancer or birth defects. "(Iraq has) everything to gain and nothing to lose by saying, `Hey, look what you did to us,' " says Army Lt. Col. Steve Campbell, a Pentagon spokesman. "The bottom line is we've found it to be an effective munition that does not present significant health or environmental risks." Radiation hazard But the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has identified depleted uranium as an "internal radiation hazard" that may cause cancer and hereditary effects, and its use at a firing range in Scotland has been linked to the highest rate of childhood leukemia in the United Kingdom. Internationally, scientists, Gulf War veterans and activists are calling for a ban on its use pending further study. "From what we know now, it certainly can't be ruled out, and I think it's highly likely as a cause for at least some of what we're seeing," says Dr. Rosalie Bertell, president of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health in Toronto. "There are lots of questions to be answered, and they're not going to be answered by arguing. They're going to be answered by good, solid laboratory work." Amid limited communication and mutual mistrust, the international community has viewed reports from Iraq with skepticism. Iraqi scientists seldom are allowed by their government to leave the country. The Iraqi government has not permitted foreign scientists in to study depleted uranium. Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, a retired Navy captain advising the Pentagon on Gulf War illnesses, says it is unlikely that depleted uranium is responsible for cancers or birth defects in Iraq. "Looking at developing countries, you do see horrific diseases due to infection and nutrition problems, and no one knows the causes," says Kilpatrick, who has worked in the Middle East and South America. "The bottom line from the World Health Organization team was that there was not enough infrastructure there to say the numbers they were seeing were higher or lower than in the past." Kilpatrick cites several U.S. studies that argue against a link between depleted uranium and cancer or birth defects. Studies by the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine of tank battlefields in Kuwait where the ammunition was fired failed to turn up unsafe levels of radiation. ===== Iraq Resource Information Site http://www.geocities.com/iraqinfo American Intifada http://www.egroups.com/group/American_Intifada __________________________________________________ Do You Yahoo!? Yahoo! Calendar - Get organized for the holidays! http://calendar.yahoo.com/ -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email email@example.com Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://www.casi.org.uk