New Study Documents Depleted Uranium Impacts on Children in Iraq
David Swanson / David Swanson.org
(September 20, 2019) — In the years following 2003, the US military dotted Iraq with over 500 military bases, many of them close to Iraqi cities. These cities suffered the impacts of bombs, bullets, chemical and other weapons, but also the environmental damage of open burn pits on US bases, abandoned tanks and trucks, and the storage of weapons on US bases, including depleted uranium weapons. Here’s a map of some of the US bases:
This map and the other illustrations below have been provided by Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the authors of a forthcoming article in the journal Environmental Pollution. The article documents the results of a study undertaken in Nasiriyah near Tallil Air Base. Nasiriyah was bombed by the US military in 2003 and in the early 1990s. Open-air burn pits were used at Tallil Air Base beginning in 2003. See a second map:
Now take a look (do not turn away) at these images of infants who were born between August and September of 2016 to parents who had continuously lived in Nasiriyah. The visible birth defects include: anencephaly (A1 and A2 , B), lower limb anomalies (C), hydrocephalus (D), spina bifida (E), and multiple anomalies (F, G, H).
Imagine if these tragic birth defects had been caused by a natural disaster or the misdeeds of the next government targeted by the United States for “regime change” — would not the outrage be widespread and thunderous? But these horrors have a different cause.
Here’s another illustration, of hand and foot abnormalities in children in Nasiriyah, and in the ancient city of Ur, near the US base:
The study now being published found an inverse relationship between the distance one lived from Tallil Air Base and the risk of birth defects as well as of levels of thorium and uranium in one’s hair. It found a positive relationship between the presence of thorium and uranium and the presence of birth defect(s). Thorium is a decay-product of depleted uranium, and a radioactive compound.
These results were found near this particular base rather than dozens of others, not because it is necessarily unique; no similar studies have yet been conducted near each of the other bases. The results found by this study are likely to be identical to results that could be found by a similar study next year, or next decade, or next century, or next millennium, at least in the absence of major efforts to mitigate the damage.
Depleted uranium (DU) weapons were not just stored in Iraq, but also fired in Iraq. Between 1,000 and 2,000 metric tons of DU was fired in Iraq according to a 2007 report by the U.N. Environment Program. While not at the same level, the US military has also poisoned the Washington, D.C., area, among other parts of the United States and the globe with DU.
The Pentagon to this day claims the right to use DU. Depleted uranium is permanently hazardous waste from the production of nuclear energy, a source of energy marketed by its lobbyists as environmentally beneficial. Here’s a description of DU from Iraq Veterans Against the War, a group (later renamed “About Face: Veterans Against the War!”) many of whose members are familiar with the damage that DU does to people directly, not just to their offspring:
“Depleted Uranium (DU) is a toxic, radioactive heavy metal that is the waste byproduct of the uranium enrichment process when producing nuclear weapons and uranium for nuclear reactors. Because this radioactive waste is plentiful and 1.7 times more dense than lead, the United States government uses DU in munitions/ammunition which are extremely effective at piercing armored vehicles.
“However, every round of DU ammunition leaves a residue of DU dust on everything it hits, contaminating the surrounding area with toxic waste that has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, the age of our solar system, and turns every battlefield and firing range into a toxic waste site that poisons everyone in such areas.
“DU dust can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through scratches in the skin. DU is linked to DNA damage, cancer, birth defects, and multiple other health problems. The United Nations classifies Depleted Uranium ammunitions as illegal Weapons of Mass Destruction because of their long-term impact on the land over which they are used and the long-term health problems they cause when people are exposed to them.”
Not only did bringing DU weapons to Iraq amount to putting “Weapons of Mass Destruction” in Iraq in the name of eliminating “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” but using and storing DU in Iraq arguably violated the Convention on the Prohibition of the Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques.
The use of DU was also one part of an illegal war, which in its entirety violated both the UN Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Each element of such a war is illegal. In addition, the use of such weapons violates the Geneva Conventions’ ban on collective punishment, as well as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
The use of these weapons was a small part of the damage done to Iraq, its people, its society, and its natural environment by the war. We ought not to require any legal case before offering aid and making reparations. Basic human decency ought to suffice.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio.He is a 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. Swanson was awarded the 2018 Peace Prize by the US Peace Memorial Foundation. Longer bio and photos and videos here. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook, and sign up for: Activist alerts.Articles. David Swanson news. World Beyond War news. Charlottesville news.
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As I noted in my comment, the figure of “1,000 and 2,000 metric tons of DU was fired in Iraq” is incorrect by the best accounting available, probably by a factor of about 2 – 4 times. The basis for the numbers in the UN report cited were speculative at the time, and not backed by primary sources.
The best available estimate for DU use in Iraq in 1991 and 2003-2004 is that provided by Dan Fahey, “The Use of Depleted Uranium in the 2003 Iraq War: An Initial Assessment of Information and Policies,” June 24, 2003.
He concludes about 300 tons were fired in 1991, and about another 175 tons in 2003 to the date of his report. Other primary sources in the record indicate that little to no DU ammo was fired in Iraq after 2004.
One problem with such exaggerations (and I am happy to detail others!), beyond the issue of simple veracity, is that they dilute perceptions of harm. If I state that it takes four time more DU to result in the observed effects, I am conceding that it is perhaps four times less toxic than official figures cited by Fahey would suggest. This is not a concession required by the evidence!
And while the photos accompanying the forthcoming Environmental Pollution article are compelling (and of more recent vintage than previously circulated photos showing newborns with harlequin ichthyosis and misleadingly, falsely claiming that the condition is caused by DU exposure), readers should be cautioned not to claim a causal relationship between these particular photos and depleted uranium exposure without ruling out a contribution from other military toxins and malnutrition as the cause of such birth defects, particularly folic acid deficiency during pregnancy, which is common in post-1991 Iraq.
The known and demonstrated harmful effects of DU exposures do not need to be exaggerated. This skunk is easily identified as a stinker without needing to shit-coat it.
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If you’d like a more recent reference, see the IKV Pax Christi report of January 2013, In a State of Uncertainty: Impact and implications of the use of depleted uranium in Iraq (http://www.ikvpaxchristi.nl/media/files/in-a-state-of-uncertainty.pdf) citing Fahey’s contribution to the 2008 book Depleted Uranium Weapons and International Law: a precautionary approach which covers the same ground and concludes that In Kuwait (1991) and Iraq (1991 and 2003-2004) the most conservative estimate is that more than 440,000 kilograms of DU were used by tanks, armoured vehicles and aircraft.
The report also notes:
Over the course of the years after the cease-fire in 2003, multiple systems capable of firing DU were used to fight the Iraqi insurgency in combat operations, but there is no data available on the quantities of DU fired.
This uncertainty actually concurs with that 2007 UN report (“Technical Report on Capacity-building for the Assessment of Depleted Uranium in Iraq,” United Nations Environment Programme Geneva, August 2007), which states the total amount of DU ammunition used during the conflict in 2003 is still unknown, but speculative figures from various studies range between 170 and 1,700 metric tonnes.
I don’t know of anyone claiming that the DU quantities used in the intervening years exceed that used during Shock and Awe and prior to the ceasefire. Also, international pressure against the use of uranium munitions had mounted considerably by 2004, including from other nations whose troops were deployed there. . . .
Those “speculative figures” referred to by the UN report of 10x the published data being used were all derived from errant claims that DU was being used in huge quantities in cruise missiles and so-called “bunker-busting” aerial bombs. These two claims have long been rejected because there is simply no primary source documentation or forensic evidence. I could trace the history of those errant claims, which while not nonsense, would likely here be considered pedantic.
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Typically, no one is writing about the consequences of the use of DU here in the Balkans in 1999. The following links are the only ones that I could find quickly. I’m sure that there is much more to be said about this. https://www.rferl.org/a/serbian-accusation-lingers-of-link-between-nato-bombing-health-woes/29841402.html
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Here is a brief report on from the 2nd International Symposium “Consequences of the Bombing of the Former Yugoslavia with Depleted Uranium 1999.” https://www.icbuw.eu/2nd-international-symposium-consequences-of-the-bombing-of-the-former-yugoslavia-with-depleted-uranium-1999/