Effects of DU in Iraq

Desert Storm
Sanctions - Disease and Malnutrition
Cancers and Deformed Births
Desert Fox and Renewed Bombing
Gulf War 2 - The Invasion of Iraq



Desert Storm

In the 43-day Gulf War campaign from January 17th to February 28th 1991 known as Desert Storm, the Pentagon's own figures, published in 1996, show that 300 tonnes of DU munitions were fired. However, independent estimates range as high as 900 tonnes. The discrepancies are largely due to the unknown extra amounts of DU in Cruise missiles, rockets and hardened bombs (eg. 5,000 Maverick rockets were fired, and they are now believed to contain DU). About half the officially confirmed DU rounds were shot in the Kuwaiti battlefields.
The US fired 14,000 DU tank rounds during the war, while another 7,000 rounds were fired during training in the sands of Saudi Arabia. In addition, A10 warplanes fired 1 million 30mm DU bullets.
The MoD claims that British tanks fired under 1 tonne of DU in Iraq, in the form of a total of 100 rounds. The RAF does not appear to have used DU munitions.

To put the quantity of DU usage in the context of the scale of the assault on Iraq, the US launched over 120,000 tonnes of explosives (source), delivered by 110,000 aircraft sorties (that's one every 30 seconds), 300+ cruise missiles and battlefield artillery, altogether constituting over a quarter of a million bombs (3,000 of which were dropped on Baghdad). This was America's first DU war, and the percentage of DU has grown with every bombing campaign since.

Before dealing with the human and environmental cost of DU, it must be pointed out that this wasn't a clean and surgical war on any level. Even by the Pentagon's own figures, barely 7% of the munitions were "smart".
These articles remind us how just how deadly was the American assault on Iraq:
The final link (by Axelrod) discusses how Saddam colluded with the US to minimise reports of Iraqi civilian casualties, but former US Attorney General Ramsey Clarke has estimated 130,000 civilian deaths, and another 125,000 from the military. These figures are echoed by former US President, Jimmy Carter.
As one Baghdad resident exclaimed:
Do you think we are the Roadrunner cartoon - you bomb us and we don't die ?

Iraq's basic infrastructure was completely shattered. Electricity, water supplies, sewage, bridges, communications were bombed from one end of the country to the other. When Finland's Martti Ahtisaari, then the UN Special Rapporteur, was dispatched to Iraq immediately after the war, he reported:
Nothing that we had seen or read had prepared us for the devastation which has befallen the country. Most means of modern life have been destroyed. The authorities are as yet scarcely able to measure the dimensions of the calamity, much less respond to its consequences. The conflict has wrought near apocalyptic results. Iraq has been relegated to a pre-industrial age
 

Sanctions - Disease and Malnutrition

UN resolution 661 passed within days of Iraq's August 2nd 1990 invasion of Kuwait, imposed the most draconian sanctions regime in history, to force Iraq to get out of Kuwait. After Iraqi forces were driven out of Kuwait in February 1991, the US announced that the sanctions regime would now be extended until Iraq was disarmed to its satisfaction. The UN's US-controlled UNSCOM weapons inspectors announced they had destroyed the last of Iraq's "WMD" in 1993 (and none have been found since), whereupon the conditions for lifting the sanctions shifted again, to become contingent on putting a satisfactory monitoring regime in place. US officials let slip the real US policy in several interviews, namely that sanctions would never be lifted while Saddam's regime remained in place.

Accordingly, the devastation caused by the Gulf War has been exacerbated by the health nightmare which DU and sanctions have created in Iraq. Malnutrition and the shortage of medicines compound the lethality of DU's toxic and radiological effects, and the malnutrition is also probably partly responsible for the sharp increase in premature births. Given the cocktail of disasters that have befallen Iraq, the effects of sanctions-induced malnutrition cannot therefore be entirely disentangled from those of DU.
A December 1995 report from the UN FAO captures the magnitude of Iraq's health crisis:
More than one million Iraqis have died - 567,000 of them children - as a direct consequence of economic sanctions ... As many as 12 percent of the children surveyed in Baghdad are wasted, 28 percent stunted and 29 percent underweight

While UN resolution 661 nominally exempted food and medicines, in practice they also fell victim to sweeping import/export "blocks" imposed by the US and UK - a situation that was only slightly ameliorated by the commencement of the UN Oil-For-Food programme in 1997.
The first two directors of this programme soon resigned in protest at its ineffectiveness, and have been campaigning against the sanctions ever since. Ireland's Denis Halliday resigned in September 1998 (after over 30 years in the service of the UN), and his Austrian successor Hans von Sponeck in February 2000 (followed by Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq). In a post-resignation interview, Halliday told the London Independent that:
Sanctions are starving to death 6,000 Iraqi infants every month, ignoring the human rights of ordinary Iraqis, and turning a whole generation against the West. ... I no longer want to be part of that.
We are in the process of destroying an entire society... It is as simple and terrifying as that.
Halliday has repeatedly described the sanctions as genocide, and dismissed accusations by sanctions apologists that Saddam's regime was exacerbating their effects for political gain.

In May 1996, when the death toll of children stood at half a million, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright infamously told the CBS current affairs programme, 60 Minutes, that: "we think the price is worth it"

He (Saddam) is a brutal dictator. He may torture to death 1,800 people a year. That's terrible and unacceptable. But we kill 6,000 a month. Let's put that on a scale
Scott Ritter - June 1999 interview

I would use the term genocide to define the use of sanctions against Iraq. Several million Iraqis are suffering cancers because of the use of depleted uranium shells. That's an atrocity. Can you imagine the bitterness from all of this ?
Denis Halliday - Sunday Herald, 24th August 2003

UN agencies estimate that 1.5 million Iraqis had died as a result of the sanctions by the year 2000, including over 750,000 children.

 

Cancers and Deformities

As for the effects of DU, its predictable twin legacy in Iraq consists of cancers and deformed births on a vast scale. The use of DU in the Gulf War didn't become common knowledge until about two years later, but Iraqi doctors had already begun comparing the symptons they were seeing with the after-effects of Hiroshima.
While cancer and deformities are the headline symptons of radiation exposure, it also damages the immune system, and can have multiple indeterminate effects.

The reported figures for the increase in cancers vary widely, and it will likely continue to be difficult to pin them down, as the incidence of new cancers is increasing rapidly, and some of the statistics that appear may only be counting certain types of cancers. Many reports speak of a quadrupling nationally, but for specific cancers such as leukemia, and in particular regions such as around Basra, the increase is much higher, while doctors also report a large incease in breast cancer, including women in their 20s. The Fire This Time reports a 10-fold increase in cancer in the South.
Certainly, most Iraqi doctors consider there to be an epidemic of cancers.

The increase in deformed births is equally marked. Once again though, it's not possible to pinpoint an exact figure, and some stats distinguish between extreme deformity, and other cases - with no clear dividing line between the two. Claims of an overall 20-fold increase are common, along with a quadrupling of so-called extreme deformities.
In Basra General Hospital, Ground Zero of this unfolding disaster, there are 1 or 2 deformed births every day. In the absence of any foetal scanning equipment (due to sanctions), pregnant women live in terror of what will emerge after the 9 months are up.

Unborn children of the region [are] being asked to pay the highest price, the integrity of their DNA
Quote from May 1992 report, The Environmental and Human Health Impacts of the Gulf Region with Special Reference to Iraq, by Ross Mirkarimi of The Arms Control Research

The German physician, Dr Siegwart Horst-Guenther, Director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute, was one of the first people to investigate the use of DU in Iraq, and was reporting a strange new disease amongst children as early as late 1991. In July 1993, he tried to bring a 30mm DU bullet from Basra into Germany to analyse it, and was arrested at Berlin airport because he set off all the radiation sensors. So much for the continuing claims that DU is harmless ...
He is now also seriously ill with cancer, but published a book in 1995 - Uranium Projectiles - Severely Maimed Soldiers, Deformed Babies, Dying Children (published in German, English & French, by Ahriman-Verlag).

In December 1998, Baghdad staged a major international conference on DU, Health and Environmental Consequences of Depleted Uranium used by the US and British Forces in the 1991 Gulf War.
One case study found that 5% of babies were born with congenital deformities, and another 2% were stillborn.
Based on the observed exponential level of increase, Prof Mikdam Saleh presented a paper predicting that 44% of the population around Basra would develop lung cancer within ten years (NB: population of the Basra region is 2 to 3 million)
In 1999, the Iraqi Atomic Agency estimated that 48% of the population had been exposed to varying degrees of carcinogenic material.

This early 1999 article by Felicity Arbuthnot, captures the hopeless situation in Iraq's hospitals.
The Health of the Iraqi People

In July 1999, the Iraqi oncologist Prof Mona Kammas, presented a paper to the Mariam Appeal's Round Table Conference in London, regarding the results of Iraqi investigations into the scale and effects of DU contamination. Note that such Iraqi efforts have always been hampered by sanctions and a shortage of equipment.
Mona Kammas - 30th July 1999

The initial part of this NI (New Internationalist) article probably belongs in the cover-up section, with its tales of an official campaign of burglary, intimidation and sacking (and the harassment of 2 British vets who travelled to the 1998 Baghdad conference, to find out more about their illness), but it also reports that radiation levels in Basra's flora and fauna have reached 84 times the WHO's recommended safe limit, while Mosul (in the north) has suffered "only" a 5-fold increase.
Poisoned Legacy: Felicity Arbuthnot - New Internationalist, September 1999 (issue 316)
NB: The Jassim link in that article is incorrect - should have pointed here, in issue 307

This 2000 photo-story in a Hiroshima newspaper reports a 300 to 400% increase in cancers. Their senior staff writer, Akira Tashiro, has published a book about DU (see Further Reading section), and its online introduction reports that in Basra, there were 34 deaths from cancer in 1988, 219 in 1996 and 586 in 2000 - a 17-fold increase.

In late 2000, Dr Chris Busby of the LLRC travelled to Iraq, and reported a 20-fold increase in radioactive alpha activity in the air, in the southern desert battlefields. In Basra itself, it was already 10 times higher than it was in Baghdad.
See reports at the LLRC and in the Egyptian paper, Al-Ahram

In February 2001, Dr Jawad Al-Ali, an Iraqi oncologist in a Basra cancer clinic, and a member of the UK's Royal Society of Physicians stated:
The desert dust carries death. Our studies indicate that more than forty percent of the population around Basra will get cancer. We are living through another Hiroshima
Three years earlier, he had told the Washington Post that cancer rates were up five or six fold since 1991, and remarked that Iraq had been exposed to eight years of war with Iran, without experiencing any such health effects. He also pointed to a marked increase in leukemia and lymphatic cancer, which he said are often related to radiation.

This article in the London Independent reports on deformities and leukemias from Basra Maternity and Children's hospital, in a city which was hit by 96,000 DU shells, and whose fertile grasslands to the West, now DU-infested, are still being used to grow food and rear livestock.
This hospital saw only 11 congenital abnormalies in the the first four years after the Gulf War, but 221 in 2001. It also observed a 4-fold increase in leukemia, and Dr Jawad Al-Ali, the UK-trained director of oncology in a nearby Basra teaching hospital, reports a doubling of cancer cases every year, as well as an increase in their severity.
The successful treatment rates for leukemia when the right drugs are available should be 95%, but in Basra the figure is only 20%, due to sanctions. Many patients suffer fatal relapses after an initially successful course of treatment, when the sporadic supply of drugs runs out.
A Chamber Of Horrors Next To The Garden Of Eden: Andy Kershaw - The Independent, 1st December 2001

Ramzi Kysia, a delegate from the US Voices In The Wilderness, points the finger of blame for the cancers at DU, and at its radiological properties, rather than its chemical toxicity.
If the source of the epidemic were chemical, there would have been a sharp spike in cancer rates following the Gulf war, followed by rapid decreases as the source of the contamination disappeared. In contrast, with radiation the strength of association increases as time passes. The fact that cancer rates are still increasing at an exponential rate in Iraq strongly implies a radioactive source.
Weapons of mass destruction - going nuclear in Iraq - 27th December 2001

A Seattle paper reports that 34 people died of cancer in Southern Iraq in 1988, 450 in 1998, and 603 in 2001, ie. a 17-fold increase (as recorded by the Japanese paper above, as well). It also reports the incidence of deformed births per 100,000 rising from 11 in 1989 to 116 in 2001
Seattle Pi - 12th November 2002
 

Desert Fox and Renewed Bombing

In December 1998, the US/UK pulled out the UNSCOM weapons inspectors and resumed the unrestricted bombing of Iraq, with the 4-day offensive they called Desert Fox, in which the US fired 420 cruise missiles and flew 600 bombing sorties.
The bombing continued up till the invasion of 2003, with varying levels of intensity (about 25,000 sorties flown in total, since 1998), and it is probable that some of the new heavyweight bunker busters containing up to 1.5 tonnes of DU each (see Dai Williams report, on our Weaponisation of DU page) have been used.

There are also persistent and credible reports of a low-level biowarfare waged by the US against Iraq - in 1999 there were epidemics of foot-and-mouth (inevitable, once the US inspectors destroyed Iraq's vaccine laboratory) and screw worm. The biggest act of biological warfare however, was of course the destruction of Iraq's water supplies in Desert Storm. ( Felicity Arbuthnot - Sunday Herald, 17th September 2000).
 

Gulf War 2 - The Invasion of Iraq

When the US was preparing to attack Iraq as part of its post-Sep11 offensive, the UN passed resolution 1441 on 8th November 2002, creating a new weapons inspections team headed by Hans Blix. Despite finding no "WMD", Blix did destroy several of Iraq's battlefield weapons, while simultaneously, the US and UK also stepped up their ongoing aerial bombing campaign against air defence systems and other targets that might present an obstacle to their planned invasion.
Having thus achieved the goal of disarming Iraq even further, the US pulled Blix's team out in mid-March 2003 with their work incomplete, as it now had its forces in place, ready for the invasion. This was despite the failure to pass a second UN resolution authorising war (stymied because the rest of the international community was still backing the Blix inspection process, and was dismissive of US claims about WMD and Al-Qaida links).
On March 20th 2003, US and UK forces invaded Iraq. They encountered only sporadic resistance, as Iraqi forces melted away. On April 9th, they captured Baghdad after its Republican Guard defenders also disappeared, and the regime abruptly vanished. On May 1st, US President George Bush officially declared hostilities over (although an escalating resistance campaign continues to this day, and has killed more US soldiers than died before May 1st).

As yet (Autumn 2003), it is too early to obtain definitive figures for the amount of DU used in this latest assault on Iraq, but early estimates suggest 200 tonnes of acknowledged DU munitions (eg. 120mm tank rounds, and A10 bullets) were fired. Up to another 2,000 tonnes may have been used, if the claims of massive DU payloads in new missiles are true.
We will have to wait to see the effects, but looters with apparent US backing destroyed the Health Ministry and many other government buildings in April, along with extensive medical records that could be used to construct baseline studies of cancer rates before Desert Storm, in between the Gulf Wars, and after Gulf War 2. Senior Iraqi DU researchers have also disappeared at the hands of US forces, and Iraq appears to have been plunged into a Year Zero, in which no records exist of the past, and no statistics are kept for the present.
Visitors to Baghdad have spoken of seeing homeless families squatting in the ruins of government buildings that may have been hit by uranium bombs. Given the Americans' denials of any danger, there are naturally no public warnings being issued about depleted uranium.

In August 2003, reports leaked out that many US troops had been hospitalised with severe respiratory problems, which were consistent with exposure to DU, and had been quietly airlifted to Germany.  
 
 

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