Canada offers forum for lecturer barred from U.S.
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
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."
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