Iraq sees alarming rise in cancers, deformed babies

Tue Dec 1, 2009 4:57am EST
 
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By Suadad al-Salhy

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The guns are gradually falling silent in Iraq as a fragile stability takes hold, turning the spotlight on a stealthier killer likely to stalk Iraqis for years to come.

Incidences of cancer, deformed babies and other health problems have risen sharply, Iraqi officials say, and many suspect contamination from weapons used in years of war and accompanying unchecked pollution as a cause.

"We have seen new kinds of cancer that were not recorded in Iraq before war in 2003, types of fibrous (soft tissue) cancer and bone cancer. These refer clearly to radiation as a cause," said Jawad al-Ali, an oncologist in Iraq's second city of Basra.

In the city of Falluja in western Iraq, scene of two of the fiercest battles between U.S. troops and insurgents after the 2003 U.S. invasion, a spike in the number of births of stillborn, deformed and paralyzed babies has alarmed doctors.

The use of depleted uranium in U.S. and coalition weaponry in the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait and the 2003 Iraq invasion is well documented, but establishing a link between the radioactive metal and health problems among Iraqis is hard, officials say.

Iraqi medical facilities are limited, and keeping accurate health statistics during years of sectarian slaughter unleashed by the invasion was impossible.

In Basra in particular, pummeled by years of war and swamped with industrial and agricultural pollution, it is difficult for doctors to isolate specific causes for cancer.

Its people have for years lived among mounds of scrap metal that include war debris, the brown rust flaking off into the wind and carried into peoples homes, food, and lungs.   Continued...

 
<p>Iraqi soldiers aim their weapons from a top of a building during a military operation in Baghdad's al-Fadhil district March 30, 2009. REUTERS/Saad Shalash</p>