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Saturday, 13 January, 2001, 09:33 GMT
Iraq demands uranium inquiry
British tank in the desert
The Iraqi desert remains littered with war debris
By Barbara Plett in Baghdad

The controversy over depleted uranium weapons used by Nato in the Balkans has also highlighted the health problems Iraq has suffered since the 1991 Gulf War.

American forces fired 320 tonnes of the low-level radioactive material during the allied campaign that drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

Iraq has since reported soaring rates of cancer and birth defects and this week demanded that the United Nations investigate.

The southern desert of Iraq is littered with the carcasses of burned-out old tanks.

Iraqis
Iraqis have lived with health fears for a decade
It is also sprinkled with particles that give off low levels of radiation left behind by weapons tipped with depleted uranium.

DU is used to penetrate armour because it is denser than other materials, but its residue is considered dangerous if inhaled or ingested.

Iraq has long argued that this toxic dust left behind by the Americans, and to a small degree the British, is responsible for a dramatic increase in cancer and birth defects since the Gulf War.

But such statements had not received much attention until European soldiers who served with Nato in the Balkans started making similar complaints.

One newspaper here said bitterly that Europe was now paying the price for ignoring a decade of evidence that depleted uranium is dangerous.

Contested

In fact the health risks are hotly contested. The central question is whether DU particles trapped in the body emit enough radiation over time to cause physical damage.

It is a political as well as a medical debate. The Pentagon would have reasons for downplaying DU dangers, such as the huge expense of cleaning up the contaminated battlefield.

Baghdad has used the issue as propaganda to win support against UN sanctions, making an accurate assessment of its effects difficult.

Iraq has also asked for an international inquiry into the use of depleted uranium weapons and the World Health Organisation announced this week that it was planning to make such a study.

It will to start by sending representatives to an Iraqi conference on depleted uranium next Tuesday.


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08 Jan 01 | Europe
10 Jan 01 | Europe
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