Tue, Jun 10, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Iraq faces nuclear danger

AFP , AL-RIADH, IRAQ

A nightmare of possible nuclear poisoning frightens residents of this village near Iraq's largest and badly-looted nuclear facility, adding more misery to already difficult post-war lives.

"We are suffering from many things such as a shortage of food and a lack of good medical care and now we have a contamination problem," said Ahmed Ali, a 25-year-old carpenter, one of the 5,000 villagers of Al-Riadh.

The Tuwaitha plant, 20km east of Baghdad, was ransacked in the aftermath of the war to topple Saddam Hussein's regime.

There are fears that nearby villagers, mostly farmers, as well as the water supply may have been poisoned, putting the lives of thousands of Iraqis at risk.

"Everyone knows this area is contaminated, but no one cares about us. I heard looters had stolen some radioactive material," said Ali.

His neighbor Saleh Abbas, a 50-year-old driver, said he wanted to leave the village for a safer place for his eight children but poverty keeps the family stuck here.

"Of course I am very worried about the health of my children. If I could, I would leave this town," he said.

For children, some of them barefooted, the Tuwaitha plant may ironically be the safest place to play in a neighborhood which lies next to a busy two-lane road.

They kick a football about and play with twisted metal parts at parking lots inside the nuclear compound while stolen goods, including furniture, car windows and electronic parts are scattered over the road from the main entrance.

"I heard the level of radiation was 4,000 times more than usual," said 44-year-old lawyer Mutheher Salman, who organized a protest at the site on Sunday to demand the UN press the US to tackle their plight.

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