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Friday, 26 January, 2001, 19:39 GMT
Iraq DU probe to go ahead
Iraqi child with cancer
Iraq says thousands of children have contracted cancer since 1991
The World Health Organisation has decided to send a team to Iraq to study the effects of depleted uranium (DU) munitions fired on the country during the 1991 Gulf War.

Iraq requested the study because it believes DU shells used by US and British forces have caused an increase in the incidence of leukaemia and other cancers among its people.

The Gulf War allies have repeatedly denied that the ammunition is responsible.

But there has been growing controversy over its use by Nato forces in the Balkans, because of allegations that some European peacekeepers contracted cancer after exposure to DU.

A UN spokesman said WHO specialists would be joined by representatives of the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

A date for the study to start has still to be confirmed.

Protests

Iraq has repeatedly complained to the international community about the use of DU munitions.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al Sahaf
Mohammed Saeed al Sahaf wants a full inquiry

The Iraqi health ministry says that between 1989 and 1997 there was almost a doubling in the number of cancer cases in the country.

In a recent letter to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, Iraq's Foreign Minister, Mohammed Saeed al Sahaf, demanded a full scientific inquiry into the issue.

But some analysts in the United States say it suits the Iraqi Government to play up the issue of DU munitions and its alleged link with cancer.

Cancer in Iraq
1989 6,555 cases
1997 10,931 cases
Source: Iraqi Health Ministry

The US and other Nato armies use DU-tipped shells because they are extremely effective at penetrating heavy armour on tanks.

They were used extensively in the Gulf War and in Bosnia and Kosovo in 1995 and 1999 respectively.

The Pentagon admits that DU emits some radioactivity, but denies that it is harmful.

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See also:

08 Jan 01 | Europe
Uranium row tests Nato
13 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iraq demands uranium inquiry
14 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iraq's ward of death
04 Dec 98 | Middle East
Iraqi call on depleted uranium
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