Lawrence Smallman / Aljazeera – 2004-08-16 09:40:40
(March 16, 2004) — There are weapons of mass destruction all over Iraq and they were used this past year. Iraqi children continue to find them every day. They have ruined the lives of just under 300,000 people during the last decade — and numbers will increase.
The reason is simple. Two hundred tonnes of radioactive material were fired by invading US forces into buildings, homes, streets and gardens all over Baghdad. The material in question is depleted uranium (DU). Left over after natural uranium has been enriched, DU is 1.7 times denser than lead – effective in penetrating armoured objects such as tanks.
After a DU-coated shell strikes, it goes straight through before exploding into a burning vapour which turns to dust. “Depleted uranium has a half life of 4.7 billion years – that means thousands upon thousands of Iraqi children will suffer for tens of thousands of years to come. This is what I call terrorism,” says Dr Ahmad Hardan.
As a special scientific adviser to the World Health Organisation, the United Nations and the Iraqi Ministry of Health, Dr Hardan is the man who documented the effects of depleted uranium in Iraq between 1991 and 2002.
“This has caused a health crisis that has affected almost a third of a million people.”
Dr Ahmad Hardan, scientific adviser to the World Health Organisation But the war and occupation has doubled his workload.
Terrible History Repeated
“American forces admit to using over 300 tonnes of depleted uranium weapons in 1991. The actual figure is closer to 800. “This has caused a health crisis that has affected almost a third of a million people. As if that was not enough, America went on and used 200 tonnes more in Baghdad alone (last) April. I don’t know about other parts of Iraq, it will take me years to document that.”
Hardan is particularly angry because he says there is no need for this type of weapon – US conventional weapons are quite capable of destroying tanks and buildings. “In Basra, it took us two years to obtain conclusive proof of what DU does, but we now know what to look for and the results are terrifying.”
Leukaemia has already become the most common type of cancer in Iraq among all age groups, but is most prevalent in the under-15 category. It has increased way above the percentage of population growth in every single province of Iraq without exception. Women as young as 35 are developing breast cancer. Sterility among men has increased tenfold.
Born but Barely Human
But by far the most devastating effect is on unborn children. Nothing can prepare anyone for the sight of hundreds of preserved foetuses – barely human in appearance. Depleted uranium has caused severe deformities in babies There is no doubt that DU is to blame.
“All children with congenital anomalies are subjected to karyotyping and chromosomal studies with complete genetic back-grounding and clinical assessment. Family and obstetrical histories are taken too. These international studies have produced ample evidence to show that DU has disastrous consequences.”
Not only are there 200 tonnes of uranium lying around in Baghdad, the containers which carried the ammunition were discarded. For months afterwards, many used them to carry water – others used them to sell milk publicly. It is already too late to reverse the effects.
After his experience in Basra, Hardan says within the next two years he expects to see significant rises in congenital cataracts, anopthalmia, microphthalmia, corneal opacities and coloboma of the iris – and that is just in people’s eyes.
Add to this foetal deformities, sterility in both sexes, an increase in miscarriages and premature births, congenital malformations, additional abnormal organs, hydrocephaly, anencephaly and delayed growth.
Soaring Cancer Rates
“I had hoped the lessons of using DU would have been learnt – especially as it is affecting American and British troops stationed in Iraq as we speak, they are not immune to its effects either.” If the experience of Basra is played out in the rest of the country, Iraq is looking at an increase of more than 300% in all types of cancer over the next decade.
The signs are already here in Baghdad – the effects are starting to be seen. Every form of cancer has jumped up at least 10% with the exception of bone tumours and skin cancer, which have only risen 2.6% and 9.3% respectively.
Another tragic outcome is the delayed growth of children. Skeletal age comparisons between boys from southern Iraq and boys from Michigan show Iraqi males are 26 months behind in their development by the time they are 12-years-old and girls are almost half a year behind. “The effects of ionising radiation on growth and development are especially significant in the prenatal child”, adds Dr Hardan. “Embryonic development is especially affected.”
Those who have seen the effects of DU hope the US and its allies will never use these weapons again – but it seems no such decision is likely in the foreseeable future. Many affected foetuses are so deformed they cannot survive
“I arranged for a delegation from Japan’s Hiroshima hospital to come and share their expertise in the radiological related diseases we are likely to face over time,” says Hardan. “The delegation told me the Americans had objected and they had decided not to come. Similarly, a world famous German cancer specialist agreed to come, only to be told later that he would not be given permission to enter Iraq.”
Moreover, Hardan believes the authorities need to produce precise information about what was used and where, and there needs to be a clean-up operation and centres for specialist cancer treatment and radiation-related illnesses.
Iraq only has two hospitals that specialise in DU-related illnesses, one in Basra and one in Mosul – this needs to change and soon. “I’m fed up of delegations coming and weeping as I show them children dying before their eyes. I want action and not emotion. The crime has been committed and documented – but we must act now to save our children’s future.”
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