The evidence lies dying in BasraBy Robert Fisk in Beirut,
THE INDEPENDENT, 25 January 2000
In IRAQ, there are doctors aplenty who would like to meet the Royal Society's scientists. In the main Basra teaching hospital, the cancer sufferers who live near the fields where depleted uranium shells (DU) were fired by the hundred in 1991 queue at the door of the tiny cancer clinic each morning. But will the British scientists meet them?
Will they go to Iraq and study the documentation of Basra's leading cancer specialist, Dr Jawad al-Ali, who has maps showing the rate of leukemia growth in the areas where Saddam's tanks were torn apart by DU in the last days of the war?
I think not. When Iraq asked the World Health Organisation to investigate DU two years ago, a team of experts arrived to see if such a study was feasible; but no investigation took place. And what about Kosovo? The US used DU rounds in its attacks across the Serb province - and then arrogantly refused to tell UN investigators the location of its attacks. The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, admitted as much in the Commons last autumn. Why? Why cannot we be told where these rounds were fired?
Will the Royal Society's experts visit Kosovo? Will they ask Nato for the information it refused to give to the UN? And what if Nato treats them with the same disdain?
They could do worse, for example, than visit the bombed-out paramilitary police barracks in Djakovica, where DU fired by American A-10 aircraft exploded in the very centre of the city. But will they go to other parts of Yugoslavia? Will they visit the areas around Belgrade where DU was also used? Will the British government, indeed, allow them to go there?
And what kind of brief is it that tells the scientists they are to "review the available evidence"? If this is to be anything more than a palliative to shut up the Gulf War veterans who suspect they are dying of DU poisoning, these six experts have to find the available evidence lying in the fields of Kosovo and southern Iraq, not just trawl through published reports and military denials. At one of Nato's May press conferences, spokesman James Shea stated that there was no evidence suggesting DU was dangerous, citing a report which turned out to be inaccurate. Is this the sort of stuff the experts will be "reviewing"?
For almost two years, Defence Ministry officials have been claiming in
letters to MPs that "the Government has not seen any peer-reviewed
epidemiological research data" on affected populations, mentioning my
own reports in The Independent of deformities, cancers and birth defects
in southern Iraq. Is this, then, what this team is meant to do - to provide
the Government with some "peer-reviewed" data without any serious
on-site inspection? I rather suspect it is.