March 24, 2013 BBC News & International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons
Doctors at the Basra maternity hospital in southern Iraq have told the BBC that they have seen a 60% rise in birth defects since 2003. Dr Muhsin Sabbak from the hospital is convinced that the rise in defects, such as spina bifida, is because of mercury, lead and depleted uranium munitions from the Iraq war. Health researchers in Baghdad have been working on a report but it continues to be delayed. The US Defense Department refused to respond.
Doctors in Basra Report Rise in Birth Defects Yalda Hakim / BBC News
(March 21, 2013) -- Doctors at the Basra maternity hospital in southern Iraq have told the BBC that they have seen a 60% rise in birth defects since 2003. Dr Muhsin Sabbak from the hospital is convinced that the rise in defects, such as spina bifida, is because of mercury, lead and depleted uranium munitions from the Iraq war. The BBC's has been investigating.
Health researchers in Baghdad have been working on a report but it continues to be delayed. The BBC confirms the study will confirm a link between US weapons and health effects. The US Defense Department refused to respond. Iraq has many problems, but this is one that cannot be ignored.
Major Iraq Birth Defect Study Expected to Show Increase Linked to Conflict BBC
(March 22, 2013) – A report, broadcast on BBC World and available online features an interview with researchers at the Iraqi Ministry of Health (MoH). The researchers indicate that the report, which has been produced jointly by the WHO and MoH, will find that rates of birth defects are higher in areas of Iraq that were subjected to heavy fighting in the 2003 war. The publication of the final report, scheduled for early this year has been delayed, but the BBC's report offers a first glimpse at the results.
"The BBC's report fits with our expectations from smaller localised studies and the reports of healthcare professionals in Iraq," said an ICBUW spokesperson. "Naturally we will await the publication of the full report but should the findings and methodology prove to be robust, the study could add considerably to the pressure for action to reduce the legacy of modern conflict on public health. However more research will be needed to establish the precise risk factors responsible."
The study was launched after concern was generated by reports from medical staff in cities such as Fallujah and Baghdad of spiralling rates of congenital birth defects. Fallujah, which lies in Anbar province, has become particularly notorious and medical staff and civil society organisations have argued that the increases are linked to environmental contamination from the US led attacks on the city in 2004.
Speaking at a workshop for the project in early 2012 Dr Hawrami Minister of Health of the Kurdistan Regional Government said: "There is a need for a comprehensive programme to learn more about birth defects in Iraq that could shed light on the incidence of various conditions, such as congenital heart defects and neurological defects, in different geographic areas over time in Iraq."
According to the WHO, the governorates in which the study has been conducted are Baghdad (Karkh and Rafafa), Diyala, Anbar (including the district of Fallujah), Suleimaniyah, Babel, Basrah, Mosul and Thi-Qar. Two districts were selected from each governorate (one as high risk and the other as a control).
The criteria for declaring a district as high risk is based on existing statistics showing a high number of congenital birth defect cases. A total of 10,800 households from 18 districts of the 8+1 governorates were selected as a sample size making it uniformly 600 households per district.
All mothers in these households who were married, between the ages of 15 and 49 years, and who had a child with any congenital birth anomaly were included as respondents. Two-stage sampling was undertaken for each child; one before the onset of the 2003 war and the other after the onset of 2003 war.
The WHO in Iraq prioritised measuring the magnitude and trend of congenital birth defects at selected district level, identifying possible risk factors of congenital birth defects and assessing the burden of these conditions and impact on the health status of care providers.
BBC World: Doctors in Basra Report Rise in Birth Defects
WHO: Congenital birth defect study in Iraq: frequently asked questions
A Decade on and Depleted Uranium Contamination Still Blights Iraq ICBUW
(March 7, 2013) -- To mark the 10th anniversary of the 2003 invasion, a new report has highlighted continuing uncertainties over the impact and legacy of the use of 400 tonnes of depleted uranium (DU) weapons in Iraq. The report reveals the extent of DU's use in civilian areas for the first time.
In a State of Uncertainty, published by Dutch peace organization IKV Pax Christi [http://www.ikvpaxchristi.nl/en/home], has sought to do what the US has so far refused to do -- reveal how widely the weapons were used in Iraq, and in what circumstances. It also analyses the costs and technical burdens associated with DU use, arguing that a decade on, many contamination problems remain unresolved -- leaving civilians at risk of chronic DU exposure.
States argue that the use of controversial DU munitions is justified against armoured vehicles, yet In a State of Uncertainty documents their use against a wider range of targets in 2003, with attacks often taking place within civilian areas, leaving residents at risk from contamination. This resulted from both the US's use of DU in medium calibre ammunition for aircraft and armoured fighting vehicles, and the frequency of urban combat operations in 2003.
The report also finds that the Iraqi government has struggled with the cost and technical challenges posed by the legacy of contamination, a situation compounded by the US's refusal to release targeting data.
The Iraqi government acknowledges that there are more than 300 sites with known contamination, based on the limited data available, with new sites regularly discovered. Clean-up of sites typically costs around US$150,000, but varies considerably depending on the setting, extent and level of contamination.
"The 300 or so known sites may be the tip of the iceberg," said an ICBUW spokesperson. "While it is obviously difficult to extrapolate directly from other conflicts, in the Balkans, where 1/60th of the quantity of DU was used, we saw somewhat over 100 contaminated sites, we would therefore expect the total number of contaminated sites in Iraq to be far higher than the 300 identified by the Iraqi authorities."
Reports collected by the International Committee of the Red Cross reveal that tribal leaders in southern Iraq highlighted DU contamination as a primary health concern, with fear of DU exposure widespread in Iraq.
Iraqis commonly associate increased incidence rates of cancers, congenital birth malformations and other diseases with DU, resulting in significant levels of anxiety. Prompted by numerous media reports of a health crisis in Fallujah, linked by researchers to the toxic legacy of military activities, a major review of birth defect rates in six Iraqi provinces by the World Health Organisation and Iraqi Ministry of Health is to be published soon.
In a State of Uncertainty documents the enormous problem still posed by the poorly regulated storage and trade in military scrap metal. Deregulation of the scrap trade under the Coalition Provisional Authority resulted in casual scrap metal collectors being needlessly exposed to DU, and to the export of contaminated scrap to neighbouring countries.
Scrap metal collectors continue to remain at risk of exposure, as do those who live near dozens of uncontrolled scrap sites. The Iraqi government has requested international assistance in analysing and managing contaminated military scrap.
"Because states are under no obligation to share targeting data, even when deploying toxic and radioactive munitions, it is unclear exactly how many locations may still be contaminated, or the extent of the risks that civilians face," said the report's author Wim Zwijnenburg.
"DU's apparent use in built-up areas against a range of targets in 2003 increased these risks, running counter to efforts to increase protection for civilians during armed conflict and further undermining DU's legitimacy. This uncertainty means that fear of DU among Iraqi civilians is widespread yet effectively managing DU's legacy will require international assistance."
The United Nations General Assembly has twice called for greater transparency over DU weapons use, most recently in December 2012, where 155 states voted in favour. The US, UK, France and Israel were the only four states which opposed the text, which also accepted the potential risks from DU use and called for a precautionary approach to their post-conflict management.
Throughout, it is clear that for states recovering from conflict, effectively managing DU contamination to standards even approaching those in the states that employ the weapons poses significant challenges. IKV Pax Christi argues that the implications for the wider acceptability of DU munitions are clear.
"Even now, 10 years after the 2003 conflict, the true extent of the risks posed to civilian from DU in Iraq is unclear," said an ICBUW spokesperson. "As the US seems reluctant to share targeting data and any records of any clean-up work it may have undertaken during the 2003-05 period, it is unclear how this situation might be resolved. Greater transparency on usage would of course be extremely helpful in determining the extent of DU's use in civilian areas."
The report's findings were reported by The Guardian newspaper.
The report, In a State of Uncertainty, can be downloaded from: www.ikvpaxchristi.nl/media/files/in-a-state-of-uncertainty.pdf
About IKV Pax Christi
IKV Pax Christi is a Dutch civil society organisation that works with its partners for peace, reconciliation and justice worldwide. We support local peace efforts in conflict areas. We build bridges, nurture mutual understanding and improve disrupted relations between groups. Our aim is to prevent conflict and to build a peaceful, democratic and just society.
UN General Assembly supports precautionary approach to depleted uranium weapons