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Canada offers forum for lecturer barred from U.S.

By Jonathan Woodward

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

04/13/07 "
Globe and Mail" 04/11/07 -- -- VANCOUVER — A highly regarded Iraqi epidemiologist who wants to tell Americans about an alarming rise in cancer levels among Iraqi children will come to Canada instead because he couldn't get a visa to the United States.

Unable to travel to the University of Washington, Riyadh Lafta -- best known for a controversial study that estimated Iraq's body count in the U.S.-led war in Iraq at more than half a million -- will arrive at Simon Fraser University in B.C. this month to give a lecture and meet with research associates.

"The University of Washington wanted him, but the U.S. denied his entry," said his colleague at SFU, Tim Takaro. "They need to be able to collaborate, even if his results are unpopular with the Americans. Now he's at SFU, and the best they're going to get is a video feed."

Once in Canada, Dr. Lafta will present estimates that paint a damning portrait of the war's ravages on children: that birth defects are on the rise since the war began, and that the number of children dying from cancers such as leukemia has risen tenfold.

Dr. Lafta had tried for six months to get a visa into Seattle to speak in Washington, and was ignored a half-dozen times, Dr. Takaro said.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services couldn't be reached for comment. But a spokesman for Seattle Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott said he couldn't understand the decision. "Jim's certainly more than a little unhappy about it. We don't know whether this was a snafu or more than that," Mike DeCesare said. "Certainly with the doctor not able to be on the campus, and engage directly with people, you've got to believe that's a net loss for everybody."

Dr. Lafta was born in Baghdad in 1960, was trained as a physician at Baghdad University College and then worked for 14 years for the Ministry of Health under Saddam Hussein. He became the head of the communicable disease department and then the primary-care department of Diyala province in northern Iraq.

Dr. Lafta, who is still in Iraq, couldn't be reached by e-mail yesterday. But Dr. Takaro shared a message from his personal communication. "The main point is that people outside Iraq do not realize the real disaster we are suffering," Dr. Lafta writes. "Only the Iraqi people know that, simply because the foreigners are listening to the news while we are living the events on the ground."

Special to The Globe and Mail

Copyright 2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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