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Depleted uranium threatens thousands of lives in Basra, government turns blind eye –researcher

Voices of Iraq


Basra, Aug 27, (VOI) – Radiation levels in selected regions of Iraq's southern province of Basra warn of imminent danger to thousands of local residents who might be more prone to cancer and birth deformities, according to Khajak Vartanian, an environmental radiation measurement specialist from the province.

"Basra has experienced an unprecedented rise in solid cancer cases during the past four years: 62 cases per 100,000 persons compared to 35 in 1997," Vartanian explained.

Exposure to military depleted uranium (DU) pollution has not only increased solid cancer cases in the province, but caused severe birth deformities in newborn babies, he added. "Other cases of renal failure, skin disease, allergy, infertility and recurrent miscarriages were also attributed to DU pollution," he indicated, adding that most of the reported cases were close to the contaminated sites.

According to Vartanian, the problem began during the second Gulf War in 1991 when the U.S.-led coalition forces used depleted uranium weapons to bomb Iraqi military sites and economic infrastructure. During the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, depleted uranium shells and ammunition were also used against Iraqi military targets in Basra, which were close to residential areas.
Totaling the number of radiation sites in Basra by 2004 as 100, the environment researcher accused local and central governments of negligence in dealing with the problem. In 2004 the Iraqi government allowed residents and traders to sell iron waste from the battlefield, which added to the increasing incidences of cancer in the province.

When asked about the highly contaminated sites in Basra, Vartanian said that most reported cases were from neighborhoods close to radiation sites, particularly from the neighborhoods of al-Zubair, Abu Khaseeb, al-Qarna and other overcrowded districts.

Commenting on the proper measures for alleviating a potential disaster, Vartanian said that all contaminated materials must be removed from Basra and buried in uninhabited areas. "A proposal was submitted to the Iraqi government to temporarily designate Maqbarat al-Dabbabat (Tanks Cemetery), 200 km west of Basra, for this purpose… but it went unheard," he added.
Recent statistics show that 1,400 armored vehicles belonging to the Iraqi army were destroyed by DU shells in 1991 and were reused by the Iraqi forces during the U.S.-led war in 2003.

Basra is a Shiite province with a 20% Sunni population. It is located 590 km south of Baghdad.

:: Article nr. 35723 sent on 27-aug-2007 17:32 ECT



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