NATIONS, Aug. 23 -- The World Health Organization will send a team of physicians
to Iraq Monday to determine whether depleted uranium shells used by U.S.
troops during the Persian Gulf War have caused an increase in Iraqi cancer
The eight-member team hopes to lay the groundwork for the first major international study since the Gulf War into Iraqi patterns of cancer, kidney diseases and other congenital disorders, according to WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl.
"The Iraqis have been saying for a while that there has been an increase in cancers caused by depleted uranium," Hartl said. "If we have determined there has been an increase, then we will look at possible causes."
The United States used depleted uranium in tens of thousands of munitions during the 1991 Gulf War and the 1999 NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia. The metal's extreme density helps projectiles penetrate armor.
The Pentagon maintains that depleted uranium, which is only 40 percent as radioactive as naturally occurring uranium, poses no radiation threat to humans.
Hartl said the WHO has found no evidence linking leukemia to depleted uranium. But he said the U.N. health organization, which is based in Geneva, would try to determine whether Iraq's concerns about an upswing in cancer are legitimate.
He said the team would seek to establish a national cancer registry to obtain accurate statistics on cancer victims. Then, he said, the WHO might examine a wide range of possible causes, including Iraqi lifestyle, diet and environmental factors.
The success of the study, which could take years to complete, hinges on the agency's ability to secure funding from donor countries and gain complete access to health facilities from Iraqi authorities, he said.
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