The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Fisk: We caused cancer in the Gulf

Posted on the IAC website (

Robert Fisk - The evidence is there. We caused cancer in the Gulf
October 16, 1998
The Independent, UK

PHIL GAMER telephoned me this week to ask how he could make contact with the
doctors treating Iraq's child cancer victims. He had been reading our series
on the growing evidence of links between cancers in Iraq and the use of
depleted uranium shells by American and British forces during the 1991 Gulf

During the conflict, Gamer was in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was not
in the front lines, but he handled the uniforms of Britain's "friendly fire"
casualties - men who were attacked by US aircraft using depleted uranium
rounds. And now he suffers from asthma, incontinence, pain in the intestines
and has a lump on the right side of his neck.

  I know what those lumps on the neck look like. This month I've seen enough
Iraqi children with tumours on their abdomen to feel horror as well as
anger. When Hebba Mortaba's mother lifted her little girl's patterned blue
dress in the Mansour hospital in Baghdad, her terribly swollen abdomen
displayed numerous abscesses. Doctors had already surgically removed an
earlier abdominal mass only to find, monster-like, that another grew in its

During the 1991 war, Hebba's suburb of Basra was bombed so heavily that her
family fled to Baghdad. She is now just nine years old and, so her doctors
told me gently, will not live to see her 10th birthday.

When I first reported from Iraq's child cancer wards last February and
March - and visited the fields and farms around Basra into which US and
British tanks fired thousands of depleted uranium shells in the last days of
the war - the British Government went to great lengths to discredit what I
wrote. I still treasure a letter from Lord Gilbert, Minister of State for
Defence Procurement, who told Independent readers that my account of a
possible link between DU ammunition and increased Iraqi child cancer cases
would, "coming from anyone other than Robert Fisk", be regarded as "a wilful
perversion of reality." According to his Lordship, particles from the DU
hardened warheads - used against tank armour - are extremely small, rapidly
diluted and dispersed by the weather and "become difficult to detect, even
with the most sophisticated monitoring equipment." Over the past few months
I've been sent enough evidence to suggest that, had this letter come from
anyone other than his Lordship, its implications would be mendacious as well
as misleading.

Let us start with an equally eloquent but far more accurate letter sent to
the Royal Ordnance in London on 21 April 1991 by Paddy Bartholomew, business
development manager of AEA Technology, the trading name for the UK Atomic
Energy Authority. Mr Bartholomew's letter - of which I have obtained a
copy - refers to a telephone conversation with a Royal Ordnance official on
the dangers of the possible contamination of Kuwait by depleted uranium
ammunition. An accompanying "threat paper" by Mr Bartholomew, in which he
notes that while the hazards caused by the spread of radioactivity and toxic
contamination from these weapons "are small when compared to those during a
war", they nonetheless "can become a long-term problem if not dealt with in
peacetime and are a risk to both military and civilian population".

The document, marked "UK Restricted" goes on to say that "US tanks fired
5,000 DU rounds, US aircraft many tens of thousands and UK tanks a small
number of DU rounds. The tank ammunition alone will amount to greater than
50,000lb of DU...if the tank inventory of DU was inhaled, the latest
International Committee of Radiological Protection risk factor...calculates
500,000 potential deaths."

"The DU will spread around the battlefield and target vehicles in various
sizes and quantities ... it would be unwise for people to stay close to
large quantities of DU for long periods and this would obviously be of
concern to the local population if they collect this heavy metal and keep

 Mr Bartholomew's covering letter says that the contamination of Kuwait is
"emotive and thus must be dealt with in a sensitive manner".

Needless to say, no one has bothered even to suggest a clean-up in southern
Iraq where Hebba Mortaba and other child victims are dying. Why not? And why
doesn't the Government come clean and tell us what really happened?

Here is a clue. It comes in a letter dated 1 March 1991 from a US lieutenant
colonel at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to a Major Larson at the
organisation's Studies and Analysis Branch and states that: "There has been
and continues to be a concern (sic) regarding the impact of DU on the
environment. Therefore, if no one makes a case for the effectiveness of DU
on the battlefield, DU rounds may become politically unacceptable and thus
be deleted from the arsenal. If DU penetrators proved their worth during our
recent combat activities, then we should assure their future existence
(until something better is developed)."

 So there it is. Shorn of the colonel's execrable English, the message is
simple: the health risks of DU ammunition are acceptable until we - the
West - invent something even more lethal to take its place.

So with tens of thousands of 1991 Gulf War veterans suffering unexplained
and potentially terminal illnesses and with thousands of Iraqi civilians,
including children unborn when the war ended, now suffering from unexplained
cancers, I can only repeat what I wrote last February: that something
terrible happened at the end of the Gulf War about which we have still not
been told the truth. As former acting Sergeant Tony Duff of the Gulf War
Veterans put it to me yesterday, "a lot of things we are now calling
victories about the Gulf War will be seen one day as atrocities - I wonder
whether this is why the powers that be don't want this DU thing to come

And what exactly is this awful secret which we are not allowed to know? Is
it, as Professor Malcolm Hooper, professor of medicinal chemistry at
Sunderland University remarks, the result of the US-British bombing of
Saddam Hussein's Sarin and Tabun poison gas factories (around 900 facilities
were bombed, it now turns out). Or is it the secret DU factor?

 I don't know whether this can be classed as a war crime. But anyone who
thinks there's no connection between our use of depleted uranium ammunition
in the 1991 Gulf War and the tide of sickness that has followed in its wake
must also believe in Father Christmas.

Does Lord Gilbert believe in Father Christmas, I wonder?

This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To be removed/added, email, NOT the
whole list. Archived at

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]