iraq nuked 1991

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    Collateral damage?

    Run-down Iraqi hospitals struggle to treat cancers linked to Gulf War bombing

    By Elizabeth Neuffer in Basra

    January 27 2003

    Gashia Said knows why her six-year-old granddaughter, Duaa, lies weak and emaciated under a thin blanket in a hospital here.

    "There was severe bombing in our village during the Bush [Gulf] war. This is the reason why we have all these diseases," said the 80-year-old woman, curling her body protectively around her granddaughter’s in the hospital bed. "We never had these diseases before 1991."

    Duaa has leukemia. Doctors in this dilapidated port city say she is one of a growing number of cancer cases since the end of the Gulf War. While Western researchers have not proved a link, Iraqi doctors attribute the rise in cancer to the depleted uranium in American bombs dropped during the 1991 conflict.

    Doctors at the Basra Teaching Hospital, who give Duaa a year to live, say regular supplies of drugs needed to treat her leukemia and other cancers are impossible to obtain, because they are often delayed or blocked by United Nations sanctions pushed by Washington.

    "Our job is to give medicine to human beings," said Iraq’s deputy Health Minister, Tahir Salman. "But we are deprived of medicine and the tools to heal, and that is against international law."

    UN officials in New York say orders for cancer-fighting drugs at times have been approved and sent to Iraq. But doctors maintain they cannot regularly get the precise mix of medicines they need.

    "There is always an interruption in chemotherapy drugs - treatment is not one single drug," said Dr Luay Kasha, director of Al-Mansour Pediatric Hospital in Baghdad.

    Iraq used to have one of the best medical systems in the Middle East. But tours of two public hospitals in Basra revealed fetid wards, under-equipped doctors, and desperately ill patients. There are private hospitals in Iraq, however, where the few who have money can pay to receive better care.

    Hospital statistics in Basra show cancer rates are on the rise. In 1988, there were 11 cases per 100,000 people in the city. By 2001, there were 116 per 100,000, according to Dr Jawad al-Ali, a cancer specialist who teaches at the Saddam Training Hospital.

    Throughout the country, the number of cancer cases has grown steadily since the Gulf War, with 7481 cases in 1989 and 8592 in 1997, according to registry statistics.

    At first, doctors were puzzled by the surge in cancer patients in Basra, which was heavily targeted by the US-led bombing campaign.
    Then it was discovered that many American munitions contained depleted uranium, which remains radioactive, prompting a series of studies.

    The Boston Globe

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