The evidence is there - we caused cancer in the Gulf

I've seen enough Iraqi children with tumours on their abdomen to feel horror as well as anger
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The Independent Online

PHIL GAMER telephoned me this week to ask how he could make contact with the doctors treating Iraq'schild cancer victims. He had been reading our series on the growing evidence of links between cancers inIraq and the use of depleted uranium shells by American and British forces during the 1991 Gulf War.

PHIL GAMER telephoned me this week to ask how he could make contact with the doctors treating Iraq'schild cancer victims. He had been reading our series on the growing evidence of links between cancers inIraq and the use of depleted uranium shells by American and British forces during the 1991 Gulf War.

During the conflict, Gamer was in the Royal Army Medical Corps.He was not in the front lines, but hehandled the uniforms of Britain's "friendly fire" casualties - men who were attacked by US aircraft usingdepleted uranium rounds. And now he suffers from asthma, incontinence, pain in the intestines and has alump on the right side of his neck.

I know what those lumps on the neck look like. This month I've seen enough Iraqi children with tumourson their abdomen to feel horror as well as anger. When Hebba Mortaba's mother lifted her little girl'spatterned blue dress in the Mansour hospital in Baghdad, her terribly swollen abdomen displayednumerous abscesses. Doctors had already surgically removed an earlier abdominal mass only to find,monster-like, that another grew in its place.

During the 1991 war, Hebba's suburb of Basra was bombed so heavily that her family fled to Baghdad.She is now just nine years old and, so her doctors told me gently, will not live to see her 10th birthday.

When I first reported from Iraq's child cancer wards last February and March - and visited the fields andfarms around Basra into which US and British tanks fired thousands of depleted uranium shells in the lastdays of the war - the British Government went to great lengths to discredit what I wrote. I still treasure aletter from Lord Gilbert, Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who told Independent readers thatmy account of a possible link between DU ammunition and increased Iraqi child cancer cases would,"coming from anyone other than Robert Fisk", be regarded as "a wilful perversion of reality." Accordingto his Lordship, particles from the DU hardened warheads - used against tank armour - are extremelysmall, rapidly diluted and dispersed by the weather and "become difficult to detect, even with the mostsophisticated monitoring equipment." Over the past few months I've been sent enough evidence tosuggest that, had this letter come from anyone other than his Lordship, its implications would bemendacious as well as misleading.

Let us start with an equally eloquent but far more accurate letter sent to the Royal Ordnance in London on21 April 1991 by Paddy Bartholomew, business development manager of AEA Technology, the tradingname for the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Mr Bartholomew's letter - of which I have obtained a copy -refers to a telephone conversation with a Royal Ordnance official on the dangers of the possiblecontamination of Kuwait by depleted uranium ammunition. An accompanying "threat paper" by MrBartholomew, in which he notes that while the hazards caused by the spread of radioactivity and toxiccontamination from these weapons "are small when compared to those during a war", they nonetheless"can become a long-term problem if not dealt with in peacetime and are a risk to both military and civilianpopulation".

The document, marked "UK Restricted" goes on to say that "US tanks fired 5,000 DU rounds, USaircraft many tens of thousands and UK tanks a small number of DU rounds. The tank ammunition alonewill amount to greater than 50,000lb of DU...if the tank inventory of DU was inhaled, the latestInternational Committee of Radiological Protection risk factor...calculates 500,000 potential deaths."

"The DU will spread around the battlefield and target vehicles in various sizes and quantities ... it wouldbe unwise for people to stay close to large quantities of DU for long periods and this would obviously beof concern to the local population if they collect this heavy metal and keep it."

Mr Bartholomew's covering letter says that the contamination of Kuwait is "emotive and thus must bedealt with in a sensitive manner".

Needless to say, no one has bothered even to suggest a clean-up in southern Iraq where Hebba Mortabaand other child victims are dying. Why not? And why doesn't the Government come clean and tell uswhat really happened?

Here is a clue. It comes in a letter dated 1 March 1991 from a US lieutenant colonel at the Los AlamosNational Laboratory to a Major Larson at the organisation's Studies and Analysis Branch and states that:"There has been and continues to be a concern (sic) regarding the impact of DU on the environment.Therefore, if no one makes a case for the effectiveness of DU on the battlefield, DU rounds may becomepolitically unacceptable and thus be deleted from the arsenal. If DU penetrators proved their worth duringour recent combat activities, then we should assure their future existence (until something better isdeveloped)."

So there it is. Shorn of the colonel's execrable English, the message is simple: the health risks of DUammunition are acceptable until we - the West - invent something even more lethal to take its place.

So with tens of thousands of 1991 Gulf War veterans suffering unexplained and potentially terminalillnesses and with thousands of Iraqi civilians, including children unborn when the war ended, nowsuffering from unexplained cancers, I can only repeat what I wrote last February: that something terriblehappened at the end of the Gulf War about which we have still not been told the truth. As former actingSergeant Tony Duff of the Gulf War Veterans put it to me yesterday, "a lot of things we are now callingvictories about the Gulf War will be seen one day as atrocities - I wonder whether this is why the powersthat be don't want this DU thing to come out?"

And what exactly is this awful secret which we are not allowed to know? Is it, as Professor MalcolmHooper, professor of medicinal chemistry at Sunderland University remarks, the result of the US-Britishbombing of Saddam Hussein's Sarin and Tabun poison gas factories (around 900 facilities were bombed,it now turns out). Or is it the secret DU factor?

I don't know whether this can be classed as a war crime. But anyone who thinks there's no connectionbetween our use of depleted uranium ammunition in the 1991 Gulf War and the tide of sickness that hasfollowed in its wake must also believe in Father Christmas.

Does Lord Gilbert believe in Father Christmas, I wonder?

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