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Sandstorm wreaks havoc in Baghdad

HUNDREDS of Iraqis are seeking medical help after one of the worst sandstorms in living memory stretched beyond a week yesterday, choking throats, clogging eyes and afflicting asthma sufferers in particular.

The weeklong sandstorm forced visiting United States Vice President Joe Biden to cancel plans to fly to Kurdistan and also interfered with the schedule of his meetings in Baghdad.

It has caused numerous flight delays out of Baghdad and last week delayed Iraq's first international bidding round for its oil fields since the 2003 invasion by a day.

Many Baghdad shops stayed shut yesterday, while police wearing masks directed thin streams of traffic through eerily misty streets. Hospital emergency rooms were packed with people complaining about breathing problems, officials said.

"We are on alert. This is the worst dust storm we have ever had in Iraq," said Doctor Jasib Lateef, operations manager at the Iraqi Health Ministry. "A large number of people are turning up at emergency rooms at hospitals, challenging our resources."

At least 300 people came to Baghdad's Ibn al-Nafees hospital with breathing difficulties yesterday, a hospital official said.

"The weather has been dusty for a week. If healthy people can't breathe, how can the children cope?" Eman um Ali, who had brought her asthma-suffering son for treatment, said.

Iraq has long suffered blinding sandstorms, but several years of drought have aggravated the situation this year.

The inadequate flow of water down the Tigris and Euphrates, which are choked by dams in upstream countries like Turkey, has made things worse. Water shortages make the land dry out and become more dusty.


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