First Published: 2003-05-08

 
US use of DU in Iraq war causes cancer
 

New fear in Iraq over US use of depleted uranium in war grows after more children catch aggressive form of cancer.

 

Middle East Online

By Dan Beaulieu - BAGHDAD

UN classes DU munitions as an illegal weapon of mass destruction

Several years after the 1991 Gulf War, Dr Salma Haddad started noticing more and more children at Baghdad's Al-Mansur hospital with an aggressive form of cancer.

Haddad, a leading Iraqi specialist, was especially alarmed since the disease, acute myeloblastic leukemia, is closely associated with exposure to radiation - and suspicion fell on the use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions.

With the fighting now all but over in the war to topple Saddam Hussein, worries are growing that another surge in long-term health problems, for Iraqi civilians and soldiers on both sides alike, is on the way.

"Many studies show a relationship between the use of depleted uranium weapons and an increase in cancer," said Haddad, displaying a chart that shows her department admits five times as many children with cancer than in 1991.

Other causes from pollution to malnutrition could be a reason, she said, but added that many of the cases were reported in southern areas around Basra, where US tanks engaged in fierce combat.

During the 1991 Gulf conflict, Abrams tanks, Apache attack helicopters and A-10 tank-buster planes fired an estimated 300 tonnes of DU munitions.

It is unknown how many were used in this war, but both the Pentagon and Britain said their troops would keep using them - even though they are classed by the United Nations as an illegal weapon of mass destruction.

Six days before the war started on March 20, Colonel James Naughton of the US Army Materiel Command dismissed Iraqi complaints that DU was causing health problems.

"They want it to go away because we kicked the crap out of them," he said.

Dr Michael Kilpatrick, director of the Pentagon's Deployment Health Support Directorate, said at the same time that DU could not be playing a role in causing cancer and birth defects. "The medical answer is no," he said.

Depleted uranium, or uranium-238, is a waste product of power-generating nuclear reactors and is 1.7 times denser than lead.

DU bullets and shells cut through conventional armor plating on tanks like paper. They emit almost no radiation before firing but burn in mid-air and vaporize after contact, spreading fine radioactive dust across a large area.

"If the Americans have used it again, they have a duty to notify the people in the areas and take immediate action to remove it," said Ghulam Popal, the World Health Organization's representative in Baghdad.

"We believe you have to be exposed to depleted uranium for many years to be affected by it. But it is certain that its use will harm people particularly if it is used in populated areas," he said.

US forces used DU munitions in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and some health specialists believe they are behind the mysterious Gulf War syndrome which has affected tens of thousands of US and British soldiers.

Physicist Doug Rokke, a member of the US military team charged with cleaning up depleted uranium following the 1991 war and now one of the most outspoken opponents of the weapons, said the task is much easier said than done.

"For each and every vehicle that is struck by a single uranium munition you have to take that entire vehicle, and physically remove it," Rokke recently said in an interview with the Arabic satellite news channel Al-Jazeera.

"Then you have to clean up all the uranium penetration that is left around that vehicle. Then you have to take a bulldozer, and go out to at least 100 metres (yards) and scrape down at least 10 centimetres (four inches) and remove all of that dirt in order to make that area safe again," he said.

If that is not done, he said, the contamination will last 4.5 billion years.

 

Iraq dismisses US call for Iranian-backed militias to 'go home'

Opposition calls on Iraqi Kurd leader to step down

Israel arrests 51 Palestinians for ‘terror-related’ crimes

Car bomb attack kills 9 in south Yemen military base

Greening the Camps brings food and hope to refugees

Six terror suspects arrested in Morocco

EU announces 106 million euros in aid for Sudan

French judges to rule on whether 'Jihad' is acceptable name

Saudi Aramco chief confirms IPO despite doubts

Lack of accountability hinders governing in Morocco, analysts say

Sudan editor convicted after Bashirs accused of graft

IS ‘executed’ 116 suspected of Syria regime collaboration

Russia’s Lavrov urges Iraq-Kurd dialogue

Kurds to arrest 11 Iraqis in response to similar Baghdad move

Rouhani boasts about Iran’s greatness in region

Iraq unrest highlights long-standing political divisions

Bahrain temporarily frees female activist

Egypt court sentences 11 people to death for 'terrorism'

Israel police arrest 15 over anti Jewish-Arab dating campaign

Tillerson woos Gulf allies to curb Iran influence

Abadi, Sadr meet in Jordan

No clear US strategy in Syria after Raqqa liberation

Tillerson pushes to undercut Iran at landmark Saudi, Iraq meeting

Gulf share values plummet

US-backed forces capture key Syria oil field

More than half of Austrians vote for anti-immigration party

Washington sees potential Hezbollah threat in the US

UN ends Libya talks with no progress made

Cairo killing sparks security concerns among Copts

Iraq PM arrives in Saudi to upgrade ties

35 Egyptian police killed in Islamist ambush

Morocco recalls Algeria envoy over 'hashish money' jibe

Ceremony marks 75 years since WWII Battle of El Alamein

Somalia attack death toll rises to 358

Long road ahead for families of jailed Morocco protesters

How Raqa recapture affects complex Syrian war

Israel hits Syrian artillery after Golan fire

Germany advances Israel submarine deal after corruption holdup

Bashir Gemayel's killer convicted, 35 years later

SDF hails 'historic victory' against IS in Raqa

Hamas delegation visits Iran

Turkish court orders release of teacher on hunger strike

Yemen rebel youth minister urges children to join war

Iran's Guards show no intention of curbing activities in Mideast

EU will cut some money for Turkey as ties sour