Discounted Casualties:The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium, Part 5 <8>Research center – Collecting information to prove damage

Seeking international cooperation

After completing my coverage in southern Iraq and returning to the capital Baghdad, I visited the Gulf War Research Center (GWRC) on the third floor of the Ministry of Culture and Information building.

"What did you find in Basra?" Nasra Sadoon (54) was general director of the GWRC. I had been in contact with her before visiting Iraq. Now she greeted me as if we were old friends. She is a novelist and writes occasional reviews for the newspaper. She speaks both English and French and has close relations with many foreigners.

Help from doctors and scholars

In 1997, she was persuaded to leave the world of private enterprise and make her wide-ranging knowledge and experience available to the GWRC.

"The main purpose of the GWRC is to collect all types of information about the effects of the Gulf War and publish a quarterly newsletter and make videos to get this information out to the world. More than anything else, we are pouring our energy into investigating the effects of depleted uranium (DU) weapons."

The GWRC was founded in 1994 within the Ministry of Culture and Information. It has a staff of 20 people, including Nasra. In addition, environmental experts and radiation scientists from the university, doctors, filmmakers, and others are helping out. They also work with the Ministry of Health.

"Under present conditions, it's very difficult to go abroad. It's not easy to get foreign literature either. However, we get some from American veterans of the Gulf War when they visit Iraq. I also have friends in England, France, Germany, and elsewhere who send it to us. As much as possible, we get experts to translate the most important material into Arabic." So saying, Nasra rose from her chair and led me to the GWRC library, which is on the same floor.

In need of precise measuring instruments

Books, magazines, research papers, pamphlets, newspaper articles, videos-in English and other languages, all about the Gulf War. One whole corner of this 70 square-meter room is devoted to material about the impact of DU munitions and radiation.

"This is the English language proceedings of an international symposium held in Baghdad in 1998 regarding the environmental and health impacts of the Gulf War." Nasra picks up a thick document ready for printing.

"If you read this, you will find out about the numerous health problems and deaths among the veterans and Iraqi civilians, especially children." However, we will need greater international cooperation if we are to get the scientific evidence we need to isolate the effects of DU."

What Iraq needs now is first-rate measuring equipment that can be used to detect radioactive and chemical contamination in urine, blood, soil and plants. "If possible, we would like to have independent experts from around the world working cooperatively with Iraqi counterparts to conduct research in their fields. That would be the ideal."

Khalid Jamil, deputy minister for Health, made the same point in my interview with him.

Lamenting America's annimosity

"The US government has convinced the people of the world that President Saddam Hussein and all Iraqis are demons." Nasra laments this "Iraq as enemy" attitude, which keeps Iraq from being able to receive international assistance.

"We do certainly have our own culture and traditions. However, like the Japanese and other peoples of the world, we are just ordinary people. We want to live in peace and stay healthy."

The US, which takes the hardest line with respect to sanctions against Iraq, also dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then, in the Gulf War and in Kosovo, they used a new radioactive weapon.

"They used an inhumane weapon that harmed many of their own soldiers and has caused and will continue to cause suffering and loss of life for decades after the war is over. That was the American government that did that, the same government that talks so loudly about human rights and humanity."

Nasra speaks calmly, but she undoubtedly speaks for the vast majority of the Iraqi people.

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(Originally published on June 26, 2000)