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Saturday, May 27, 2006

World is blind to real situation in Iraq: activists

Staff writer

OSAKA -- An Iraqi journalist and a Japanese human rights activist said the public has a poor idea of the situation in Iraq and warned of an impending health catastrophe as more Iraqis contract cancer from exposure to depleted uranium shells used by the U.S. and Britain.

Speaking at a public gathering Thursday evening in Osaka, Isam Rasheed, a freelance journalist, and Fumikazu Nishitani, head of Osaka-based NGO Rescue the Iraqi Children, gave an update of what was going on in the Middle Eastern country.

"It is now virtually impossible for foreign journalists to move around independently in Iraq," Nishitani said.

"Most (journalists) are embedded with U.S. forces or operate from the Green Zone, a walled fortress in central Baghdad. As a result, few people in the West, or in Japan, have seen the true extent of the damage and suffering in Fallujah, while the U.S. government continues to deny responsibility for the cancer and leukemia outbreaks."

"The world has seen little of the devastation wrought by U.S. troops on the city of Fallujah," Rasheed said. "Entire neighborhoods were destroyed and the number of innocent civilians killed and maimed the bombing was quite high."

Nishitani said the situation was a "major problem for Japan" because the Japanese public does not have a clear picture of what is going on in Iraq because there are few Japanese journalists there.

During the Vietnam War, Japanese reporters went to Vietnam and showed what was really going on, according to Nishitani.

Now, there are no Japanese reporters from the mainstream media in Iraq, he said, noting they all left on orders from the Foreign Ministry.

Rasheed said many Japanese he has spoken with over the past few years know little about what is really going on and says they believe the Self-Defense Forces are providing humanitarian relief when the only news they receive about it is from the government.

"What are they doing in Iraq? The Iraqis don't know. When we heard the Japanese were coming, many Iraqis were happy because they thought this meant Japanese companies would be coming to Iraq and provide jobs and technology training," the journalist said.

"That hasn't happened, and there is a sense of bitter disappointment."

Nishitani slipped into Iraq three times, most recently earlier this month, and filed reports for the Mainichi Shimbun and other news outlets.

Rasheed, who is also a photographer, is based in Baghdad and writes for a Scottish newspaper.

The men showed two of Rasheed's films as well as photos of the November 2004 siege of Fallujah by U.S. troops.

They also showed photos of Iraqis with cancer they had interviewed. Iraqi doctors and many international experts claim much of the cancer, particularly leukemia, was caused by exposure to depleted uranium shells from U.S. and British forces that have contaminated the ground.

Rasheed told the story of one 12-year-old boy he interviewed who began playing in a field contaminated with depleted uranium at the age of 10. Shortly after he began showing signs of illness and was eventually diagnosed with leukemia.

Despite extensive evidence and a growing international consensus that the depleted uranium shells are responsible for the rise of cancer in Iraq, the United States continues to deny any connection.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment ordering a comprehensive study on the effects of exposure to depleted uranium. The study, however, will only be conducted on U.S. soldiers.

Journalists have discovered that since 2003, parts of Baghdad have radiation levels 1,900 times higher than normal.

During the first year of the war, starting in March 2003, the U.S. Army and Air Force used ammunition containing about 115 metric tons of depleted uranium.

"Nobody has any idea how many Iraqis may have developed leukemia or fallen ill (with other diseases), because of the depleted uranium shells," Nishitani said.

"It's a major health catastrophe in the making." Rasheed said.

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The Japan Times

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