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While George W. Bush‘s handlers are busy writing General David Petraeus‘s September 11 “progress report” on Iraq — check out the facts they’ll be trying to spin — they’re not ignoring other health issues.

Just last week, Bush proclaimed National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month *. (It starts in just a few days, so check out this American Cancer Society info too.)

For those Iraqi men who haven’t been among the millions fleeing the country, that shows that our government cares.

More good news, again connected to Iraqi men’s health: Fewer Iraqi children are likely to die in coming years. The reason? There’s a sharp increase in sterility among Iraqi men. As the U.N. news service IRIN reports:

According to Dr Muhammad Bashier, manager of the family planning clinic in Karada Hospital, Baghdad, the number of sterile men in Iraq has increased dramatically over the past four years as a result of stress, depression and exposure to radiation and possibly chemicals.

“Before 2002, the number of men seeking our services and advice were fewer than four a day, while we had 20 to 30 women every day. But today we have a minimum of 60 patients a day with men representing half this number,” Bashier said.

“In our research, we have discovered that most of the men who are completely sterile are from areas where radiation and chemicals from war have been present in higher proportions — especially in the south of the country and in the outskirts of Baghdad,” he added.

But that just means more danger to Iraqi doctors, as Bashier explains:

“It is very hard to tell an Iraqi man that he is sterile. We even had a doctor who was killed less than two years ago by a patient after giving him the news.”

Don’t think that women are being ignored. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month over here, and it’s likely that fewer Iraqi women will be in danger of contracting the disease. IRIN reports that women’s rights activists are increasingly targeted by militants:

Haifaa Nour, 33-year-old president of the Women’s Freedom Organisation (WFO), one of the few women’s rights organisations in Iraq, said the threatening letters she had recently been receiving would not deter her from her job, even if it cost her her life. However, she acknowledged that for a woman activist the risks of doing humanitarian work were increasing daily.

“After the US-led invasion in 2003, women’s rights were well recognised … but unfortunately in the past two years our situation has deteriorated and the targeting of activists and women aid workers has increased, forcing dozens to give up their jobs,” Haifaa said.

“I know my life is under threat and I might be killed at any time especially for refusing to wear a veil or other traditional clothes, but if I do so, I will just be abetting the extremists,” she said.

Courageous women like Haifaa Nour will now have fewer worries because she and everyone else will be less able to leave their homes: There’s already a curfew in Baghdad from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., but now tighter restrictions have been imposed in advance of a huge annual Shi’ite pilgrimage. As the BBC reported Saturday:

The Iraqi government has imposed a partial travel ban in Baghdad and the outskirts of the capital ahead of a major Shia festival next week. Two-wheelers and hand carts, but not cars, will be banned in Baghdad and its outskirts … , an army official said.

The curfew aims to curb insurgent attacks against up to two million Shia pilgrims expected to head to Karbala. Earlier, a car bomb in northern Baghdad killed at least seven in a Shia area.

“An indefinite curfew has been imposed on two-wheelers and hand carts, but not on other vehicles such as cars,” Brig Gen Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi military in Baghdad, told the AFP news agency.

Well, that’s good that people will have to stay inside, but the temperatures during the day are still triple-digit, and Baghdad residents have only about three hours of electricity every 24 hours. Whew. No wonder people are on edge.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 27, 2007

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