Cancer Cases Soar In Southern
Iraq Since Gulf War
By Dominic Evans
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Cancer cases soared as much as sixfold in parts of southern Iraq after the 1990-91 Gulf Crisis, according to a United Nations document based on Iraqi government figures.
The document, obtained by Reuters on Sunday, showed a nationwide cancer increase of 55 percent between 1989 and 1994 with an overwhelming tilt towards the southern provinces. It identified the southeastern provinces of Thi-Qar, Missan, Basra and Muthanna as having ``the highest increase in cancer cases among other governorates.'' New types of cancer had emerged over the five-year period and the disease was striking younger people, it said. Iraq says it has been hit by an epidemic of cancer and previously unknown diseases in the south, where the United States and Britain fired depleted uranium (DU) shells during the 1991 U.S.-led offensive to recapture Kuwait. The U.N. document did not suggest a cause for the increase in cancer cases.
The southern Shi'ite provinces are also some of Iraq's poorest, regularly scoring badly in surveys of health care, malnutrition, school attendance and water sanitation. With its health services devastated by eight years of sanctions imposed for its invasion of Kuwait, Iraq says it cannot afford expensive cancer drugs to treat the afflicted. Baghdad has told the United Nations it reserves the right to ``fair compensation for the appalling damage'' caused to Iraqis. Britain's U.N. ambassador Sir John Weston last week denied Britain violated international law when it used DU rounds and said they were fired a long way from population centres. Weston quoted a British government letter as saying DU rounds could produce ``a small amount of radioactive and toxic particulate material when they impact with a hard surface'' but that it was unlikely anyone other than those in the target area would be exposed to large enough quantities of the material for their health to be at risk.
Weston said Britain could not comment on incidences of ill health in southern Iraq because it had seen no epidemiological research data on the population. The U.N. document said cases in Basra, which borders Kuwait, more than doubled to 461 between 1989 and 1994. In Muthanna, which borders Saudi Arabia and was the entry point into Iraq for part of the coalition force, cases doubled to 59. Missan, north of Basra on the border with Iran, saw cancer cases up nearly sixfold and Thi-Qar, wedged between Muthanna and Missan, saw cancer cases nearly seven times higher in 1994. ``Cancer cases that had the highest increase were leukaemia, lung cancer, bronchus, bladder, skin and stomach cancer for males and breast cancer for females,'' said the document, based on Iraqi Ministry of Health figures. It said since January 1991 the highest incidence was recorded in the age groups 45-50 and 50-55, compared to 60-65 before that date.
The number of cases in some northern provinces were barely changed over the same period, with the actual incidence rate probably falling given population increases, it said.

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