A chamber of horrors so close to the "garden of Eden"
I thought I had a strong stomach - toughened by the minefields and foul frontline hospitals of Angola, by the handiwork of the death squads in Haiti and by the wholesale butchery of Rwanda. But I nearly lost my breakfast last
week at the Basrah Maternity and Children's Hospital in southern Iraq.
Dr Amer, the hospital's director, had invited me into a room in which were displayed colour photographs of what, in cold medical language, are called "congenital anomalies", but what you and I would better understand as horrific birth deformities. The images of these babies were head-spinningly grotesque - and thank God they didn't bring out the real
thing, pickled in formaldehyde. At one point I had to grab hold of the back of a chair to support my legs.
During the Gulf war, Britain and the United States pounded the city and its surroundings with 96,000 depleted-uranium shells. The wretched creatures in the photographs - for they were scarcely human - are the result, Dr Amer said.
He guided me past pictures of children born without eyes, without brains. Another had arrived in the world with only half a head, nothing above the eyes. Then there was a head with legs, babies without genitalia, a little girl born with her brain outside her skull and the whatever-it-was whose
eyes were below the level of its nose.
Then the chair-grabbing moment - a photograph of what I can only describe (inadequately) as a pair of buttocks with a face and two amphibian arms. Mercifully, none of these babies survived for long.