by Yvonne Ridley - in Baghdad
British soldiers face a far more deadly legacy than bullets from Saddam's army if they invade Iraq as part of an Allied attack on the country. Leading scientists are convinced that they - and eventually their families - will be exposed to cancer-causing agents that have killed tens of thousands of Iraqis in the last decade.
The ailments are said to be similar to Gulf War Syndrome already being suffered by Allied troops who served in the 1991 conflict. Gulf War bombs are blamed on hundreds of horrendous birth defects, childhood cancers and mystery syndromes after Britain and America pounded Basra and its surrounding districts with 96,000 Depleted Uranium shells.
However the Ministry of Defence has dismissed the warning and a spokesman said, while the MoD acknowledges the existence of Gulf War Syndrome, "there is no evidence at all of DU causing problems. There is no evidence that DU presents a risk".
However Iraqi scientists disagree. According to them DU has an incubation period in humans of five years and point to their own statistics as proof of "something nasty" in the soil around Basra. In the four years from 1991 (the end of the Gulf war) until 1994, the Basra Maternity Hospital saw 11 congenital anomalies. Last year there were 221.
There is also an alarming increase in cases of childhood leukaemias and cancers and Professor Mona Al Jibori says she has new evidence to suggest the cancers are now spreading northwards among the Iraqi population. Depleted Uranium has a half-life of 4.1 billion years with total disintegration estimated after 25 billion years, she says.
"Whatever is in the water courses, the soil and possibly the food chain, began after the Gulf War. We are convinced it is Depleted Uranium and if British and American soldiers come charging in to our country from the south they can be expected to be contaminated as well.
"It would be quite ironic that they would eventually suffer from cancers and diseases left by their own weapons the last time round," said Professor Al Jibori.
She accused the MoD of being "in denial" and not looking after the "best interests of their soldiers". The former graduate from Liverpool University is the Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Baghdad and has become a world-renowned expert on the legacies of DU.
"There is a positive relationship between DU and the increase of cancers and malformations in newborn babies. We are seeing an increase in the cases of male and female sterility among young people and a great increase of leukaemia among five to 15 year olds. "We are also seeing two and three different types of cancers emerging from the same family and invariably they live in or around Basra, which was pounded during the Gulf War.
"We have sectioned off various areas. Those hit by direct exposure, red spots and outlying districts. Whatever is down there will affect invading Western troops just as much as innocent Iraqi people.
"The Americans and the British will begin to reap what they have sown because the chemical toxicity and radioactive material still in evidence in the south will be impossible to avoid."
Professor Al Jibouri said United Nation-imposed sanctions had stifled
research work into Depleted Uranium because of restrictions in bringing specialised equipment into Iraq to investigate the full-scale of the toxicity caused by the Gulf War. In any other country, in which the vital drugs are available, 95 per cent of the childhood leukaemia cases would be treated successfully, but in Basra the figure is 20 per cent. Many youngsters suffer relapses during treatment when the sporadic supply of drugs runs out. And then they die.
The UN says around 5,000 Iraqi children die every month because of a shortage of medicines created by their sanctions. Earlier this year Tony Blair told Parliament and the country that Saddam Hussein is free to buy all the medicines Iraq needs under the oil-for-food programme. This is not true.
Oil for food amounts to just 60 cents (40p) per Iraqi per day and everything - food, education, health care and rebuilding of infrastructure - has to come out of that. There simply is not enough to go around. Iraq's medical needs and aid are submitted to the UN Security Council 661 Committee which meets in secret in New York and does not publish minutes. It supervises sanctions on Iraq. President Saddam is not free to buy Iraq's non-military needs on the world market. The country's needs go before 661 and, often after bureaucratic delay, a judgement is handed down on what Iraq can and cannot buy.
"Dual use" is the most common reason to refuse a purchase, meaning the item requested could be put to military use. ends
Last updated 28/02/2005