Rise in birth deformities blamed on Allies' deadly weaponry

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The Independent Online

The number of babies born deformed and children suffering leukaemia have soared because of the "deadly legacy" of depleted uranium shells used by British and American forces in Iraq, human rights campaigners claimed yesterday.

The number of babies born deformed and children suffering leukaemia have soared because of the "deadly legacy" of depleted uranium shells used by British and American forces in Iraq, human rights campaigners claimed yesterday.

Releasing details of health problems and human rights violations suffered by Iraqi children in the past year, they claim the country's youngsters faced a worse existence today than they did under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.

Depleted uranium was widely used by Allied forces to penetrate Iraqi tank armour in the Gulf Wars of 1991 and again last year.

Opponents claim the dust it releases upon impact is rapidly absorbed into the body, causing an upsurge of serious health problems inherited by Iraqi children during the past 13 years from their parents.

Caroline Lucas, a Green Party Euro-MP who recently visited Basra, said doctors there had told her that the number of children born with severe deformities, such as shortened limbs or eye defects, had increased sevenfold since 1991. In addition they were treating several new cases of leukaemia every week - before 1991 the condition was very rare.

"Women in Basra are afraid to become pregnant because there are so many deformed babies," she said. "We are leaving a deadly legacy for generations to come."

She made the claims at the launch in London of a new charity, Child Victims of War (CVW), to help Iraqi youngsters "innocently suffering malnutrition, disease, disability and psychological trauma".

The amount of depleted uranium used by coalition forces in the two Gulf Wars is not known, but some estimates suggest it was 300 tons in 1991 and five times as much last year.

CVW says the number of Iraqi babies born with serious deformities has risen from 3.04 per thousand in 1991 to 22.19 per thousand in 2001. Babies born with Downs Syndrome have increased nearly fivefold and there had been a rash of cases of previously little-known eye problems.

The Ministry of Defence insists depleted uranium poses a "minimal" risk to civilians. But, in a finding strongly disputed by the MoD, researchers recently discovered radiation levels from destroyed Iraqi tanks to be 2,500 times higher than normal and 20 times higher than normal in the surrounding area.

Joanne Baker, the director of CVW, who has just returned from Iraq, said children had also been maimed by cluster bombs, blamed by Human Rights Watch for "hundreds of preventable civilian deaths".

She said youngsters were also vulnerable both to coalition forces and local militia resisting western forces.

She said malnutrition had worsened since the Anglo-US invasion and unpolluted water was in short supply while standards of hospital care had fallen because of shortages of medical supplies.

Those children who went to school - and a Christian Aid survey showed two-thirds of poor youngsters did not - were "so malnourished they can't concentrate".

Ms Baker claimed: "Every child in Iraq had a degree of psychological trauma.

"I have been to Iraq under Saddam and sanctions - most people know how bad things were - but what has happened this year has plunged Iraq into a plight which is actually far, far worse," she said.

Ms Baker added: "I am not an apologist for Saddam but I have spoken to people saying they suffered terribly and they are in tears saying 'I wish he was back'.

"If it is worse than sanctions and Saddam then we are really talking about a humanitarian catastrophe."

CVW has applied to the Charities Commission for charitable status, and plans to open an office in Iraq to monitor abuses, counsel those who have been detained, train human rights groups and provide medical help to young victims of war.

VICTIM OF DEPLETED URANIUM?

At the age of seven, Fadel, from Basra in southern Iraq, developed a devastating, and extremely rare, liver and kidney complaint which caused her abdomen to swell dramatically. The condition - which has only been seen in Iraq since 1991 - is thought to be caused by abnomally high levels of toxic materials in her body.

She underwent agonising hospital treatment, which involved injections to draw out the huge amounts of water that accumulated. Her cries of pain were so loud they could be heard down the hospital corridor. Fadel's father was serving in the Iraqi army during the first Gulf War when she was conceived. Fadel is believed to have died shortly after this photograph was taken.

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