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Allies under fire over Gulf legacy


At a conference in London today, Dr Mona Kammas will show a series of pictures of grotesquely deformed babies.

They were born with huge black growths on their heads, or with no feet, or with tiny heads, or with huge clefts in their backs. They have distorted limbs and disfigured torsos, their tiny bodies appearing mangled.

These are the offspring, she says, of Iraqi soldiers subjected to hundreds of thousands of rounds of shells tipped with depleted uranium (DU), fired by US forces during the 1991 Gulf War.

Incidences of cancer, infertility and congenital abnormalities have increased dramatically, particularly in Iraq's south - the battlefield zone.

Dr Kammas, who lectured at Liverpool University in England in the 1970s, is a member of Iraq's Committee of Pollution Impact by Aggressive Bombing. Its task, she says, is to analyse the effect on humans, animals and the environment of DU ammunition.

Dr Kammas is the main speaker at today's conference, organised by the British Labour MP Mr George Galloway, on ``the cancer epidemic in Iraq and its possible link to the allied use of depleted uranium weapons''.

It is a controversial issue and a topical one. American A-10 ``tank-busters'' used uranium-tipped shells against Serb targets in Kosovo, and British troops attached to the K-For peacekeeping force are equipped with DU anti-tank weapons.

Yesterday Dr Kammas produced statistics that she said resulted from ``the first use of radiological weapons in the history of mankind'':

  • The extent of congenital abnormalities and cancers in the Basra region of southern Iraq is significantly higher than in the country as a whole.
  • Couples who had perfectly healthy babies before the Gulf War are now infertile.
  • There is a cluster of lymphatic cancer cases near Basra.
  • Instances of thyroid cancer have doubled over the past 10years, and it is more prevalent in the south.
  • Renal failure, which she says is linked to uranium exposure, has also doubled.
  • Radioactivity levels in the environment are 10 times higher than normal, with contamination much higher in the south.
US and British Gulf War veterans found similar symptoms when they attended an international conference in Baghdad last year.

The fact that the increase in serious illnesses has soared throughout Iraq - ``you don't find a house or a family without cancer or malformations from Basra to Mosul'', Dr Kammas said yesterday - does not deter her from placing the blame squarely on DU weapons. The international community - and the US and Britain in particular - were responsible, she said, and should pay to clean up the environment, and lift sanctions on all medicines.

Britain and the US do not deny that DU is dangerous. In 1990, just a few months before the Gulf War, the US army issued a warning about the handling of accidents involving DU.

The British Defence Secretary, Mr George Robertson, told MPs this month that British soldiers in Kosovo had been given appropriate guidance, and provided with nuclear, biological and chemical equipment, including protective gloves and respiratory equipment, which they should wear ``if contact with targets damaged by DU ammunition is unavoidable''.

Documents released under the US Freedom-of-Information Act indicate that US forces fired 944,000 rounds of DU-tipped weapons during the Gulf War, leaving 300 tonnes of DU in Iraq and Kuwait.


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