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Why are Iraq's children getting sick?

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

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.
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

"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

American Intifada

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