The World Health Organization says it is looking into Iraqi claims that cancers, birth defects and other health problems have increased as a result of the use of depleted uranium ammunition by NATO in the 1991 Gulf War. WHO says it will present proposals to the Iraqi government in a few days.

Iraq claims it has growing health problems. It blames this on depleted uranium in some of the ammunition used by allied forces in the Gulf War.

For years, it has been asking the World Health Organization to conduct an independent study into the matter. Preliminary studies have shown no link. But, pressure to examine the situation has been mounting since similar allegations surfaced in the aftermath of fighting in the Balkans.

Six WHO experts recently met with Iraqi health officials in Baghdad and agreed on potential projects to gather data on cancers, congenital malformations and renal diseases.

Senior WHO official, Neel Mani, says the data must be scientifically validated and must be able to withstand international scientific scrutiny to be believable. "It is very important to realize that any scientific conclusion has to be based on not only reliable data, it has to be based on benchmarks which allow current data to be compared on past data in order to come to conclusions,"

Mr. Mani says Iraqi authorities have assured WHO experts they can gather health data wherever necessary. "I think we received all the assurances that we need from the Iraqi authorities who are very keen to collaborate with us on this project, that they would support us in the gathering of data wherever it was required," he said. "Clearly, WHO would not involve itself in a project where it was not able to gather data that it could validate scientifically."

WHO experts are establishing the technical details of the health projects. They expect to send a final version to Iraqi health authorities in the coming days.

Mr. Mani says it will take up to two years to gather the data and to reach some conclusions. But, he says the projects cannot go ahead until Iraq comes up with the money needed to fund the research. He says he does not know how much this would cost, but estimates run in the millions.