Officials from the World Health Organisation are on their way to Iraq to prepare for a survey into cancer and birth defects.
Baghdad says cancer rates have soared in areas of the south which, during the Gulf War in 1991, Britain and the United States attacked with weapons containing depleted uranium.
The WHO says all possible risk factors need to be examined, including pollution from destroyed industrial plants and chemical weapons from Iraq's war with Iran in the 1980s. A spokesman said the first step would be to determine what increase in cancer there had been.
A BBC Middle East correspondent says this will be a complicated task in a country where the health system has collapsed, and where the computers that would normally be used in such a project are banned under the international embargo.
From the newsroom of the BBC World Service