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Thursday, December 3, 1998 Published at 22:37 GMT

World: Middle East

Veterans back Iraq over Gulf war illness

Iraq blames DU for increase in deformities

Veterans from the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq are joining the Iraqi authorities in saying that ammunition used by the allies in the war has caused severe health problems.

Jeremy Cooke in Baghdad: Veterans say they have been poisoned
The veterans are attending an international medical conference in Baghdad on the impacts of depleted uranium, DU, which Iraq says is still poisoning the population.

Iraqi doctors say they have seen a huge increase in problems in former combat areas and that childhood cancers have increased four-fold.

DU, a metal residue left when natural uranium is refined, gives shells extra penetrating power. On impact, the shells create an airborne dust, which can be poisonous if inhaled or ingested.

Two British Gulf War veterans, Ray Bristow and Colin Purcell-Lee, have travelled to Baghdad to gather more information on DU.

The two men say they are suffering from the effects of DU.

Our correspondent in Baghdad, Jeremy Cooke, says the fact that two British ex-servicemen are at the symposium, sitting with their former enemies, is clearly embarrassing for the UK Government.

MoD raids soldier's home

Mr Bristow has learned that his home in Hull has been raided by Ministry of Defence police and several official documents removed.

[ image: Mr Bristow:''I'm not frightened of the truth'']
Mr Bristow:''I'm not frightened of the truth''
The former warrant officer said he expects to be arrested when he gets home, but is not worried.

''I'm not frightened of the truth. Maybe the Ministry of Defence are, the government are. I'll do what's just and right. That is being patriotic to one's country. I'm not a traitor,'' he added.

Our correspondent says the veterans know Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will use them for propaganda purposes, but they are not apologising.

The MoD says there is no evidence that British troops were exposed to depleted uranium.

Child cancers soar

The two-day conference, attended by 600 Iraqi doctors and scientists, called for a ban on DU and urged affected families to seek compensation from the US and Britain.

[ image: War debris: The legacy of allied firepower]
War debris: The legacy of allied firepower
Iraqi scientists showed pictures and slides of disfigured babies who were born without hands or legs or with distorted heads.

They said the number of babies with birth defects had increased three-fold around the city of Basra in the south, which was close to Gulf War battlefields.

And hospital statistics indicated that the number of Iraqi children with cancer rose to 130,000 in 1997 from 32,000 in 1990.

'Oil well fires could be to blame'

But a Canadian scientist, Dr Hari Sharma, said although the deformations were heartbreaking, the Iraqis had failed to prove a link to DU.

He suggested the increase in cancer could be caused by the huge oil well fires during the war or the subsequent UN sanctions which led to severe shortages of food and medicines.

But he said he had found DU in urine samples from allied Gulf War veterans who had complained of unexpected ailments following service.

British and American veterans said they had come to the conference because their own countries were withholding information on DU.

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