Letter: Cancer toll in Iraq

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YOUR leading article of 5th March spoke of the possibility that the cancers in southern Iraq could have been caused by "the use by the Americans and their allies of depleted uranium shells", or that "the huge refinery fires that burned for weeks during the war may have released cancer-causing fumes".

There were far more oil well and refinery fires in Kuwait than in all of Iraq. The retreating Iraqi troops deliberately set fire to 715 Kuwaiti oil wells and three refineries, which took months, not weeks, to put out. There were tank battles, in which depleted uranium shells were used by the coalition forces, in Kuwait itself as well as southern Iraq. There were also heavy air bombardments of Iraqi troop concentrations all over Kuwait. None of this has caused an epidemic of cancers in Kuwait.

This suggests that the increase of cancers in southern Iraq is more probably due to the breakdown in Saddam Hussein's vast system of weapon manufacture. The low standards of safety in Iraqi chemical weapon factories and storage facilities shocked UN inspectors. Air bombardments on Iraq must have also released amounts of these terrible materials into the air.

Finally, we must not forget the horrifying effects of Saddam Hussein's deliberate use of chemical weapons against insurgents in the southern marshes of Iraq during the period 1991-94. These marshes are located in the southern provinces of Basra and Nasriyah, precisely the areas that your reports cover.

AHMED HUSSEIN

London SW20

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