by EAW Asks US to Act Quickly to Address Environmental Impacts of US Invasion –
Hon. Colin L. Powell 5 May 2003
Secretary of State
US State Department
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Powell:
Now that Baghdad has fallen and the US is preparing to assume the responsibilities of nation-building, our global coalition of more that 100 environmental organizations is appealing to you to pay heed to repairing the environment that the invasion has visited on the land, water and citizens of Iraq.
As you well understand, it is critical that the restoration of water, electricity and food distribution services be given the same level of support that has brought about the revival of the damaged oil wells in the Rumailah field.
Once food, power and water is restored, the ransacked hospitals and civil services must be repaired and re-equipped with modern medical tools and a full store of badly needed medicines.
There is much work to be done but, once the survival needs of Iraq’s urban dwellers are met, a major effort must be made to address the lingering environmental and social damage caused by Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Desert Storm, the Iraq-Iran War and 12 years of sporadic US/UK bombings and unrelieved economic sanctions.
As United Nations Environment Programme Director Klaus Toepfer reminds us, “Environmental protection is a humanitarian issue.” While the consequences of the invasion of Iraq were not as grave as many NGOs had predicted, in some ways, the environmental damage exceeded our worst fears.
In the 1991 war, Kuwait and Iraq were bombarded with about 340 tons of depleted uranium contained in shells, rockets and bombs. On April 29, The Guardian Weekly reported that experts had calculated the amount of DU used by the coalition forces in this latest campaign ranged “between 1,000 and 2,000 tons.”
On April 28, UNEP released a “desk study” report on the environmental status of Iraq. Study Chair Pekka Haavisto concluded that “many environmental problems are so alarming that an immediate assessment and a clean-up plan are needed urgently.” Further, Haavisto urges, “The environment must be fully integrated into all reconstruction plans if the country is to achieve a strong and sustainable recovery.”
Among the concerns expressed in the UNEP report are the following:
• Lasting damage from the intentional destruction of Iraq’s municipal water supply and water treatment facilities in the 1991 war.
• The intensive use of depleted uranium weapons throughout the battlefield.
• Bombing of military and industrial targets, which released toxic chemicals into the land, air and water.
• The widespread use of military weaponry that has left the country littered with deadly debris and unexploded ordnance.
• Smoke from urban trench-fires and burning oil wells have polluted both the southern regions and the capital city.
• Bombs and the movement of hundreds of heavy armored vehicles have seriously degraded natural and agricultural resources in the ground invasion’s 300-plus-mile advance from the port of Umm Qasr to Baghdad.
EAW shares these concerns and we support the list of remedial recommendations that UNEP has put forward. These include:
• Restoring all water and sanitation systems to state-of-the-art performance.
• Working within a UN framework to create an effective system of sustainable environmental management strategies.
• Building strong and independent national institutions for safeguarding the environment and human health.
• Encouraging Iraq to ratify critical international treaties regarding the protection of the natural and social environment.
• Convening an international team of experts to conduct field missions to assess the status of hazardous waste emissions, water-resource management and ecosystem restoration.
• Integrating environment protection goals into the post-conflict clean-up and restoration process.
• Employing the most environmentally friendly technologies in reconstruction work.
• Conducting a scientific assessment of all sites struck with DU weapons.
• Distributing clear warnings and guidelines for people who might come in contact with the remnants of DU weapons.
• Mounting a scientific assessment of all sites contaminated by the use of DU weapons.
EAW is requesting, under the Freedom of Information Act, the release of the Pentagon’s targeting lists for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Pentagon officials have stated that 10,000 targets were removed from earlier versions because the sites were judged to lie too close to cultural, archeological or civilian resources.
EAW is asking the Pentagon to release, at the earliest possible moment, a complete list of all targets hit — including the impact damage for weapons that missed their intended targets — and a full inventory of all the types of weapons used in this assault.
EAW believes that excessive force was employed to gain the announced military goal. This could, in itself, be a violation of the Geneva Accords’ theory of proportionality. In several cases, attempts were made to assassinate Iraqi officials with multiple bunker-buster bombs, In one case, four 2,000-pound JDAMs were dropped in an attempt to kill one individual.
It has been reported that the Tomahawk cruise missile — one of our “smartest” high-tech weapons — has a failure rate of ten percent. If 700 of these cruise missiles were launched against Iraq during the March-April war, that would mean that 70 Tomahawks would have been expected to crash and explode in non-target areas. EAW would encourage the Pentagon to move expeditiously to publish an accurate report on the performance of the rockets and missiles used in this campaign.
EAW is especially concerned about the Pentagon’s continued use of depleted uranium weapons, since these devices constitute a form of radiological warfare. The use of DU weapons has been subject to international condemnation for violating established treaties on the conduct of war. EAW believes, as does the European Union, that DU weapons should be banned.
On April 24, The Royal Society (Britain’s national science academy) called on coalition forces to reveal — quickly and completely — how many DU weapons were fired and where they were used. In the 1991 war, about 340 tons of DU were used. With a half-life of 4.5 billion years, this is pollution that will last “forever.” And now, even more DU has been added to the burden of eternity.
As Professor Brian Spratt, chair of the Royal Society’s DU working group, observes: “It is highly unsatisfactory to deploy a large amount of material that is weakly radioactive and chemically toxic without knowing how much soldiers and civilians have been exposed to it.” Spratt emphasizes the importance of monitoring exposure and insists that “It is vital that this monitoring takes place… within a matter of months.”
The Royal Society notes that soldiers and civilians exposed to DU-laden dust may “suffer kidney damage and an increased risk of lunk cancer.” The Society was also concerned that the heavily contaminated soil around DU impact sites “may be harmful if swallowed by children.”
EAW joins the Royal Society in setting the following demands:
• Inventory the use of DU weapons and identify all impact sites.
• Isolate and then clean up all sites, removing embedded DU shells that could degrade and contaminate groundwater. Pay special attention to cleaning up the impact sites in residential areas.
• Undertake long-term monitoring of contamination in water and milk.
• Monitor DU in urine samples of both exposed and unexposed soldiers and civilians to more clearly assess long-term health risks.
• Engage an experienced organization like UNEP to begin the monitoring process but assure that Iraq acquires an independent ability to take over long-term monitoring and health studies.
EAW also shares the concern of Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency that, despite assurances from Washington, US troops failed to secure the nuclear facility at Tuwaitha. As a result, the radioactive materials stored at this and several other sites in Iraq have been looted. At worst, the stolen material could be used by terrorists to fabricate a “dirty” bomb. In the meantime, hundreds of Iraqi civilians face the risk of exposure to this radioactively contaminated material.
EAW encourages you and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to take immediate action to see that the US military properly secures and safeguards all military, commercial and industrial sites that may contain materials that are radioactive, toxic, chemically reactive, or biochemically active.
Secretary Powell, as a former military man, you are certainly aware that nearly two-thirds of the half-million men and women who served in Operation Desert Storm are now recognized by the Veterans Administration as suffering from lasting service-related illness and disability.
EAW joins with the Gulf War Veterans’ Association and other veterans’ groups in calling for extended research and medical treatment for the victims of the first Gulf War.
EAW also urges the White House and the Secretary of Defense to “support the troops” by vigorously promoting the prompt, thorough and continued testing of the men and women who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Britain’s Ministry of Defense has already offered to test all returning members of its Iraq invasion force. The testing of US personnel should begin immediately and it should continue for the rest of their lives.
EAW also urges the US to conduct a comprehensive survey of the civilian lives and property destroyed during the invasion and undertake the responsibility to rebuild damaged dwellings and compensate the victims. President Saddam Hussein, after all, made a practice of giving $10,000 to families of suicide bombers: How can the US be any less generous when it comes to assisting the families victimized by US strategic bombers?
As you have observed: “Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age.” There is a great deal of bad news waiting to be discovered in post-war Iraq. And, as you so rightly stated, it will not “improve with age.” Action is needed now.
Thank you for your commitment to addressing America’s treaty responsibilities to restore the life-support systems that are so critical to the survival of the Iraqi people. Restoring Iraq’s severely stressed and war-damaged damaged environment must become a large part of this obligation.
And, if Washington and the Pentagon are successful in achieving these goals in Iraq, we hope that this same expertise will begin to be applied back in the US to mitigate the record of rollbacks and environmental damage that the Bush administration has racked up over the past three years.
Gar Smith, Peter Drekmeier, China Brotsky, Co-founders
Environmentalists Against War
cc: George W. Bush, Ronald Rumsfeld