Iraqi Environment Minister Jassem al-Falahi has acknowledged that pollution from oil production is the main reason for increases in local cancer rates.
His comments came after a BBC Arabic investigation revealed that communities living close to oil fields near Basra are at elevated risk of leukaemia.
These communities suspect gas flaring – the “wasteful” burning of gas released in oil drilling – is to blame.
Flaring produces cancer-linked pollutants like benzene.
The environment minister’s comments, made to the BBC’s HARDtalk programme, come despite a confidential order issued by the Iraqi prime minister – and seen by BBC Arabic – banning its employees from speaking about health damage caused by pollution.
They also directly contradict previous comments made to BBC Arabic, by the Minister of Oil, Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail, in which he denied all links between the cancer rates and air pollution from oil.
Communities living near oil fields in Basra have long suspected that their high rates of leukaemia are due to gases being flared on the oil fields.
Flared gases from these sites are dangerous because they emit a potent mix of carbon dioxide, methane and black soot which is highly polluting.
Photo: Essam Al-Sudani / Reuters