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Date: Thursday, 29 July 2004, 11:39 a.m.
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BAGHDAD, July 28 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – Cancer and birth defects have been spreading like wildfire in Iraq since the 1991 US-led Gulf War, prompting doctors to describe them as the Iraqi version of flu.

Depleted uranium (DU) used by the United States and its allies against Iraq has taken its toll on around 120,000 to 140,000 Iraqis, according to the latest estimates released by the Iraqi health ministry.

With Iraq becoming an almost radioactive toxic wasteland, the number of birth defects and cancer-infected Iraqis is on the rise day in and day out due to the lingering effects of the deadly nuclear substance, the London-based Al-Quds Press news agency reported Tuesday, July 27.

Dr Abdul Kazimi, director of Baghdad only nuclear medicine hospital, said 7500 Iraqis are being infected with cancer ever year.

The substance is also blamed for the so-called Gulf War Syndrome, the still-unexplained malady that has reportedly plagued hundreds of thousands of Gulf War veterans.

Press reports say about 100,000 tons of DU munitions had been used in the Desert Storm military operation, the first time such a weapon was used in a warfare.

On January 16, 1991, the US launched its allied Desert Storm military operation to liberate Kuwait.

The unprecedented US-led aerial bombardment and DU armor-piercing shells forced the Iraqi troops to desperately retreat from Kuwait on February 27.Aggravated

Abdul Hamid Khalifa, an Iraqi specialist on carcinogens, said the crippling 13-year-old US sanctions slapped on Iraq after the war have made matters worse.

"It is a disaster in the broad sense of the word that has slipped out of control," he said.

"Cases of cancer-infected Iraqis started emerging following the 1991 Gulf War with most of the cases concentrating in the south and women taking the brunt."

The specialist added that infantry troops were identified as receiving the highest exposures to DU radiation.

He further said that contaminated water, expired imported food stuff and devastated health infrastructure added insult to injury.

Khalifa stressed that environmental pollution is causing 70 percent of cancer cases and food 30 percent.

Farras Abd, an Iraqi citizen whose uncle is a DU victim, said prayers are his one and only option.

"The hospital is running out of medicine and can’t cope with the increasing number of cancer patients, who can’t afford traveling abroad for treatment," he noted.Deadly Substance

According to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), depleted uranium is a highly dense metal that is the byproduct of the process during which fissionable uranium used to manufacture nuclear bombs and reactor fuel is separated from natural uranium.

Uranium, a weakly radioactive element, occurs naturally in soil and water everywhere on Earth, but mainly in trace quantities.

A second, potentially more serious hazard is created when a DU round hits its target.

As much as 70 percent of the projectile can burn up on impact, creating a firestorm of ceramic DU oxide particles.

The residue of this firestorm is an extremely fine ceramic uranium dust that can spread by the wind, inhaled and absorbed into the human body and absorbed by plants and animals, becoming part of the food chain.

Once lodged in the soil, the munitions can pollute the environment and create up to a hundredfold increase in uranium levels in ground water, according to the UNEP.

DU is said to be radioactive for about 4 thousand years.



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