Baghdad insists it has evidence to show that cancer and birth defects have increased recently and that this is linked to depleted uranium
A team from the World Health Organisation has arrived in Baghdad to begin research on a possible link between cancer and depleted uranium used by US-led forces in the Gulf War.
The five-day mission will investigate claims by Baghdad that there has been a significant rise in cancers and birth defects since 1991.
The six-member team arrived in Baghdad and met Health Ministry officials and viewed documents supporting Iraq's claims.
The team leader, Abdel Aziz Saleh, an Egyptian doctor working for the WHO in Cairo, told reporters that the mission would pursue the causes of concern Iraqis raised earlier this year in Geneva.
He was asked if he thought the depleted uranium used in allied shells against Iraqi forces during the Gulf War was responsible for a higher level of birth defects and cancer.
"We haven't yet reached the evidence or the data that can answer this kind of question," Saleh replied.
"Actually, the project proposals are meant to develop the information, the data, that is reliable to answer these kinds of questions."
Baghdad insists it has evidence to show that cancer and birth defects have increased recently and that this is linked to depleted uranium.
On Tuesday, Saleh said that for Iraq's findings to prove valid, "more comprehensive" research needs to be carried out with the help of international experts and the latest equipment.
Saleh said Iraq also needs to improve its cancer registry programs, raise awareness about the disease and encourage prevention education.
He said the high rate of Iraqi smokers impacts on the number of cancer cases in the country.
Iraq says sweeping UN trade sanctions imposed since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait have severely impaired its health services.
The WHO team is studying proposals submitted by Iraq for the research project.
Last month, Iraq accused the United Nations of trying to postpone the WHO visit for "security reasons," adding the organisation had "bad intentions."
But UN-Undersecretary-General Benon Sevan, who is in charge of the world body's Iraqi program, rejected the Iraqi allegation as casting "aspersions against United Nations personnel."
The team is expected to stay five days in Iraq. A seventh member is due to arrive shortly.
Information on depleted uranium (DU)
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