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These children had cancer. Now they are dead. I believe they were killed by depleted uranium, By Robert Fisk, The Independent, 10 January 2001



Hey all,

This doesn't seem to have been sent yet - apologies if you're seeing it
again.
bas

***

They smiled as they were dying. One little girl in a Basra hospital even
put
on her party dress for The Independentís portrait of her. She did not
survive three months.

All of them either played with explosive fragments left behind from US and
British raids on southern Iraq in 1991 or were the children -- unborn at
the
time -- of men and women caught in those raids. Even then, the words
"depleted uranium" were on everyoneís lips. The Independentís readers cared
so much that they contributed more than #170,000 for medicines for these
dying children. Our politicians cared so little that they made no enquiries
about this tragedy -- and missed a vital clue to the suffering of their own
soldiers in the Balkans eight years later.

In March 1998, Dr Jawad Khadim al-Ali -- trained in Britain and a member of
the Royal College of Physicians -- showed me his maps of cancer and
leukaemia clusters around the southern city of Basra and its farming
hinterland, the killing fields of the last days of the 1991 Gulf War that
were drenched in depleted uranium dust from exploding US shells.

The maps showed a four-fold increase in cancers in those areas where the
fighting took place. And the people from those fields and suburbs where the
ordnance were fired were clustered around Dr Aliís cancer clinic in Basra.
Old men, young women with terrible tumours, whole families with no history
of cancer suffering from unexplained leukaemias.

They stood there, smiling at me, wanting to tell their stories. Their
accounts, tragically, were the same. They had been close to the battle or
to
aerial bombing. Or their children had been playing with pieces of shrapnel
after air raids or their children -- born two years after the war -- had
suddenly began to suffer internal bleeding. Of course, it could have been
one of Saddamís bombed chemical plants -- or the oil fires -- that were to
blame. But a comparison of the location of cancer victims to air raids,
right across Iraq from Basra and Kerbala to Baghdad, are too exact to leave
much doubt. And tragic did not begin to describe the childrenís "wards of
death" in Baghdad and Basra.

Ali Hillal was eight when I met him -- he was to live less than two months
more -- lived next to a television broadcasting transmitter and several
factories at Diala, repeatedly bombed by Allied aircraft in February 1991.
He was the fifth child of a family that had no history of cancers -- he now
had a tumour in his brain. His mother, Fatima, recalled the bombings.
"There
was a strange smell, a burning, choking smell, something like insecticide,"
she told me.

Little Youssef Abdul Raouf Mohammed came from Kerbala, close to Iraqi
military bases bombed in the war. He had gastro-intestinal bleeding. There
were blood spots in his cheeks, a sure sign of internal bleeding. Ahmed
Fleah had already died in the childrenís ward, bleeding from his mouth,
ears, nose and rectum. He took two weeks to bleed to death.

About the same time, the first British "Gulf War syndrome" victims were
telling of their suffering. It was often identical to the stories -- told
in
Arabic -- that I listened to in Iraqi hospitals. Something terrible
happened
in southern Iraq at the end of the Gulf War, I reported. But the British
Government  -- now so anxious to allay fears for the health of British
soldiers who have been in contact with depleted uranium shells in the Gulf
and in the Balkans -- put their collective nose in the air.

Doug Henderson, then a defence minister -- and later to be such a public
supporter of Natoís bombing of Kosovo -- wrote in an extraordinary letter
that "the Government is aware of suggestions in the press, particularly by
Robert Fisk of The Independent, that there has been an increase in
ill-health -- including alleged [sic] deformities, cancers and birth
defects
-- in southern Iraq, which some have attributed to the use of depleted
uranium-based ammunition by UK and US forces during the 1990-91 Gulf
conflict.

"However, the Government has not seen any peer-reviewed epidemiological
research date on this population to support these claims and it would
therefore be premature to comment on this matter."

And there Mr Henderson lost interest. Had he been able to see Hebba
Mortaba,
the tiny girl in Basra whom I met with a tumour the size of a football
pushing up from her stomach, perhaps his reply would have been more
serious.
Many of the other children in this purgatorial hospital were bald and
suffering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. All came from heavily-bombed areas of
Iraq. A few knew they were dying; some told me they would recover. None of
them did. When in 1998 I visited the killing fields outside Basra, the
burned-out Iraqi tanks still lay where they had been attacked by Major
General Tom Rhameís US First Infantry Division, bombed amid the farms and
streams.

Many of the local farmers had relatives dying of unexplained cancers. One
of
them, Hassan Salman, walked up to me through the long grass, a man with a
distinguished face, brown from the sun. "My daughter-in-law died of cancer
just 50 days ago," he said. "She was ill in the stomach. Her name was Amal
Hassan Saleh. She was very young -- she was just 21 years old. A woman
walked out of a tomato field and offered me an over-large pale green
tomato,
a poisoned fruit according to the Basra doctors, from a poisonous war,
grown
on a dangerous stem, bathed in fetid water.

Yes, of course, it made good propaganda for Saddam. Yes, of course, he
gassed the Kurds who had gone over to Iranís side in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq
war. Yes, of course, the Iraqis later laid on a propaganda showcase of
statistics for their dying -- and mock funerals for the infant dead. But
the
children I met were dying -- and have died. Their leukaemia was real and
growing. One Baghdad doctor had just watched a child patient die when I
went
to visit him. He sat in his chair in his clinic with his head in his hands,

the tears flowing down his face. This was not propaganda.

In Basra, in the poorest part of the city -- still, ironically, regularly
attacked by the USAF and RAF -- I asked a random group of women about the
health of their families. "My husband has cancer," one said. Sundus
Abdel-Kader, 33, said her aunt had just died suddenly of leukaemia. Two
other women interrupted to say that they had younger sisters suffering from
cancer. And so it went on, in a society where merely to admit to cancer is
regarded as a social stigma. Why had so many Iraqis -- especially children
-- suddenly fallen victims, I asked myself, to an explosion of leukaemia in
the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War?

Of course, the victims were Iraqis. They were Muslims. They lived -- and
died -- in a far-away country. They were not Caucasians or Nato soldiers.
But I do wonder if Iím going to have to tour the childrenís wards of Bosnia
and Serbia in the years to come, and see again the scenes I witnessed in
Iraq. Or perhaps the military wards of European countries. Thatís why I
asked Nato just after the Kosovo bombing in 1999 for the locations of
depleted uranium munition explosions. The details, I was told, were "not
releasable".



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