Letters from Iraq- Dec. 13

Dec. 13 Iraq journal

We met with Dr. Souad Al-Azzawi, an Asst. Professor of the College of Engineering of the University of Baghdad. She received her PhD in Environmental Engineering from the University of Colorado. Her topic was the results of the use of depleted uranium weapons used in Iraq during the “war of American Aggression” in 1991. Since more than 1 million Du-tipped munitions were used by the American forces in the southern part of Iraq during the brief war, scientists have noticed medical effects on the residents of this area and the soldiers fighting there which first started showing up in increasing numbers in 1995-96.

Although it was quite difficult to hear her presentation due to the size of the room and her accent, Dr. Al-Azzawi showed slides with the results of soil and air samples taken from the area in 1995. She stated that 44% of the population in that area south of Basrah are expected to get lung or other cancers and about 5% of these patients will develop fatal cases of cancers. The effects will usually start appearing within 10 years after exposure. As of 1998, cases of cancers have tripled in Basrah. 7.3% of the Iraqi troops will have the same problems. 31% of the livestock was also exposed. Besides the contamination of U-238, there is also contamination of radium which has very active gamma rays. The cancer rates appear to be increasing at a sharper rate since 1999. Although more tests are clearly needed, the WHO (World Health Organization under the UN) changed it’s mind about investigating the effects of the use of Du weapons in Iraq after pressure was brought to bear on it. Given the realities of the economic sanctions, Iraq is hard pressed to be able to conduct the thorough scientific studies needed in this area.

I asked about the effects of the radiation and heavy metals on the vast fields of tomatoes growing in the area close to the “Highway of Death” south of Basrah. She replied that although there are not recent tests that have been done, she personally would not consume fruits and vegetables grown in that area. However, we were told that tomatoes grown there are shipped all over the country.

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