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Depleted Uranium

Two items about the use by the US and Britain of Depleted Uranium (D.U.) 
weapons in the Gulf War, and its consequences:

1. an article by Robert Fisk from October this year
2. a 1995 interview with Prof. Gunther, the German professor who first
   uncovered the use of D.U. gives a clear 'introduction' to D.U.

Date: Thu, 15 Oct 1998 22:33:09 -0400 (EDT)

        WHO to investigate radiation fall-out from Gulf war in Iraq   

By Robert Fisk in Baghdad
The World Health Organisation may soon begin a study into the effects on
Iraqi civilians of depleted uranium shells in the 1991 Gulf War - and
enrage the Western nations that used them during and after the liberation
of Kuwait.

The shells are widely blamed for a frightening increase in cancer -
especially among Iraqi children - and may have contaminated large areas of
southern Iraq. Independent readers responded to reports from the region by
sending 100,000 to an appeal for medicines, which have just been delivered.

The government in Baghdad believes that a WHO report would finally confirm
their suspicions that the Allies saturated the land with radiation.

A three-man WHO team has already visited Iraq's Hospital for Nuclear
Medicine in Baghdad to inspect its records of cancer increases since the
war, and is due to report in the next few weeks on how an investigation can
be conducted into the use of the Allied ordnance.

 If the Iraqi Ministry of Health approves, WHO personnel would spend two
years taking evidence on the use of the shells and the effect on the health
of millions of Iraqis whose families lived near the sites of the battles and

For Saddam Hussein, of course, this would provide further propaganda in his
campaign to lift the punitive UN sanctions against Iraq - always supposing
sanctions are still in place in two years - and to accuse the Americans and
British of "war crimes".

Hitherto, it is Saddam himself who has been accused of crimes against
humanity. Nevertheless, if a WHO team concludes that the shells and missiles
that use armour- piercing depleted uranium penetrators - and cause
radioactive and chemically toxic dust to be scattered around the target -
are to blame for the Iraqi cancer epidemic, there will be substantial
pressure on the Gulf War victors to pay compensation to Iraq and to ban
future use of the controversial weapons.

Ironically, the two-storey Iraqi Hospital for Nuclear Medicine stands next
door to the Baghdad WHO headquarters whose director, Dr Habib Rejab, has
confirmed to The Independent that WHO representatives have made a
preliminary study of Iraqi cancer data. Last week, the hospital's senior
medical staff also allowed me to inspect their statistics on post-war cancer
cases - figures that suggest a correlation between leukaemia increases and
the war.  Of course, the very name of Saddam Hussein tends to contaminate
Iraqi-compiled government statistics as surely as the Allied armies may have
contaminated the land of Iraq. But the hospital's graphs appear to be
accurate - they start long before the 1991 war and, in some cases, clearly
show a fall in cancer when one might have expected an increase. If
propaganda experts have been at work, they did a poor job.

Dr Mona el-Hassan has been drawing up cancer statistics in Iraq since 1976
and her files are both professional and convincing. "There has been a
changing pattern of cancers since the war, including a double incidence of
cancer of the intestinal tract," she says. "There has been an increase in
the incidence of breast cancer among young females. Nowhere else in the
world has there been a high incidence below the age of 30."

Her latest statistics - still to be published - show a startling increase in
leukaemias in Iraq's southern provinces, the area most affected by the 1991
war. Some areas, such as Wasit, show an actual decrease - from 226 cases in
1989 to 203 in 1994 and then 224 in 1996 - but other figures bear out
doctors' suspicions. The childhood cancer registry, for example, shows an
increase in boys with lymphatic leukaemia aged up to 4 and between 5 and 9,
from 68 and 94 in the 1989-1991 period to 86 and 98 between 1992 and 1994.

During the same periods, myeloid leukaemia has increased from 2 cases to 12
(in the 0 to 4 age group) and from 5 to 18 in the group aged 5 to 9 years.
Total myeloid leukaemia figures for children aged up to 15 go from 26 in the
earlier table to 61 in the most recent.  In similar age patterns, the
increase in lymphatic leukaemia among girls is equally disturbing: 118 cases
in the 1989-91 period compared with 174 between 1992 and 1994. The
statistics show an overall increase among both boys and girls during the
same periods for cancer of the eye and thyroid and Hodgkin's disease.
Interestingly - and perhaps another reason to trust them - the statistics
show a decrease in bone cancer among girls and cancer of the kidney. Iraqi
propagandists would not have made the mistake of leaving those figures

Annual figures for overall cancer patients give a clear idea of the
increases. In 1990, 7,058 new cancer cases were registered in Iraq. By 1992,
the figure has soared to 8,526. The comparable breakdown figure for males is
3,913 in 1990 and 4,735 in 1992, for females 3,145 in 1990 and 3,791 in
1992.  The total of new cancer figures for 1996, still unpublished, shows an
increase of well over a thousand since 1990 - from 7,058 to 8,360 - although
a slight fall on the comparable figure for 1992.

Iraqi officials acknowledge that 1991 figures - which show an unbelievable
decrease - are of little use because they did not include cancer cases from
the Kurdish Mosul province, which was then in a state of insurrection
against the regime.

  Iraqi doctors say there are many cancer cases that are never reported to
the government. "In a small village, they will say a child is 'sick' and
they will think it has some passing illness and then it dies and is buried
and we never hear about it," one doctor told me.  "Other families believe it
wrong to admit they have cancer cases - in case it affects the marriage
prospects of their other children. So we may have far more cases than we




    The proliferation of D.U. arms has sparked concern at the United
Nations. Last August, Margaret Papandreou, the former first lady of
Greece, led a delegation to the U.N. calling for the lifting of sanctions
against Iraq and an investigation into Iraqi claims of increased cancer
rates in the Basra region that Iraqis attribute to the 300 to 800 tons of
D.U. left behind by U.S. forces. The U.N. Subcommission on Prevention of
Discrimination and Protection of Minorities passed a resolution that
includes language calling for a prohibition on the use of depleted
uranium; only the U.S. representative voted against it. The full U.N.
Human Rights Commission is now taking testimony on D.U. and is expected to
release a report sometime later this year.

    The use of Depleted Uranium (DU) armour piercing shells by U.S. forces
in the 1991 Gulf War was uncovered by the German professor, Dr.
Siegwart-Horst Gunther. A survivor of world war and internment in a Nazi
concentration camp, Dr. Gunther is a tireless campaigner in the struggle
to highlight the little-reported and ongoing human suffering resulting
from the Gulf War. Al-moharer al-Australi reprints this interview from Nov

    DAVID MULLER: Professor, I gather that Depleted Uranium is a
by-product of the nuclear enrichment industry. Is this correct?

    PROF. GUNTHER: Uranium ore, as found in nature, is a compound which
consists for the most part, of the isotope 238 and about 0.70% of the
isotope 235. Now, as the isotope 235 alone is fissionable and hence of use
for the reactors, the uranium ore, poor in that element, must be enriched.
Such a process involves masses of material and creates consequently huge
quantities of depleted uranium (composed mostly of the sole isotope 238).

    DAVID MULLER: Why did the U.S. use Depleted Uranium shells in the Gulf

    PROF. GUNTHER: Depleted Uranium possesses characteristics which make
it very attractive for the weapon technology :

    a.. It is the heaviest element occurring, so to say, naturally on earth:
1 cm3 weighs 18.95 grams;

    b.. Possibly related to a German technology, because of its density,
uranium tipped projectiles have a very high penetrating power. DU is best
suited for the production of ammunition to break through steel armours;

    c.. Moreover it is a naturally pyphoric material. After penetration,
so much heat develops at the exit point, that DU particles catch fire. A
hit tank, for instance, explodes releasing highly toxic and radioactive

    d.. After experiences during the Gulf War, since 1992, U.S. tanks are
getting increased strengthening, all around, by DU. These U.S. tanks are
ironically called Radiation Deponents.

    DAVID MULLER: Professor you were one of the first people to expose to
the world that the U.S. had used Depleted Uranium in the Gulf War. How did
you make this discovery?

    PROF. GUNTHER: I found on the 7th of May, 1991 on the highway between
Baghdad and Amman, in the desert, projectiles in the form and size of a
cigar, which retained my attention, because of their unusual appearance
and weight. In that region, columns of refugees, aid transports and others
had been submitted to attack by A-10 planes equipped with this type of

    DAVID MULLER: That's a long way from the tank battles on the Kuwait
border. So you found an unexploded shell fired from a U.S. Warthog ground
attack plane that attacked traffic on the way to Jordan?

    PROF. GUNTHER: Yes. Later on I happened to see children playing with
these projectiles. A little girl who possessed 12 of them died of
leukaemia. Also in the children hospitals of Baghdad, Mosul and Basrah the
number of leukaemia, aplastic anaemia and tumour development is noticeably
on the increase.
    Moreover a new up-to-date undiagnosed disease is seen with abnormal
abdominal distension possibly related to disturbed liver and kidney
functions. Because of the impossibility of treatment the children die,
most painfully from secondary infections.

    DAVID MULLER: I believe that you took one of the DU shells back to
Germany for analysis ?

    PROF. GUNTHER: The possible relation to German technology prompted me
to take one bullet to be analysed by four German institutions. The bullet
under examination exhibited a radioactivity of 11 to 12 microsivert per
hour and was highly toxic. Because of its danger the projectile was seized
by German police in special protective clothing and transported to a safe
place. In radiology in Germany, personnel should not be exposed to more
than 50 millisivert per year.

    DAVID MULLER: What are the short term and long term effects of DU
contamination in Iraq?

    PROF. GUNTHER: From my own observations in Iraq, the long term effect
of contact with DU results in the breakdown of the immune system. Other
effects noticed have been:

    e.. Many infectious diseases, with serious complications are on the
increase. Sometimes diseases break out which are known in Europe only
through text books;

    f.. Herpes infections, Zoster infections and AIDS-like symptoms are
dramatically on the increase, all of them possibly related to the
breakdown of the immune system;

    g.. Premature births are numerous. Congenital malformations of the
newborn show a high postwar percentage (26.8% according to Dept. of
Pathology, College of Medicine, University of Baghdad). In the
countryside, children die in great numbers and are buried without
possibility of diagnosis;

    h.. During the lambing season in 1993 a high percentage 10% according
to IPA Agricultural Research Center) of abnormal newborn lambs have been
observed. Most of them died a few days after birth.

    DAVID MULLER: U.S. authorities closed a DU penetrator ammunition
factory on the edge of Albany, in upstate New York because of air borne
contamination levels exceeded 150 microcurie per month contaminating
populated areas up to 26 miles away. This was the equivalent of 1 or 2 of
these 30mm canon shells per month releasing its toxicity to the
environment. We can only guess at the toxicity levels in Iraq when the
Desert Storm 100 hour ground offensive exploded some 40 tonnes of these DU

    PROF. GUNTHER: According to American Greenpeace, documents released
under the Freedom of Information Act, indicate that the Allied Forces
would have left 300 tons of DU on the battle fields between Kuwait and
Iraq, mostly in the form of toxic and radioactive dust. Much of the
uranium dust has been scattered about thousands of square miles of desert.
As the Gulf region has a rainy season, it is feared that uranium particles
get at one time or the other into the ground water and finally reach the
food chain. Highly toxic uranium dust, if inhaled, can result in lung
cancer. Many DU projectiles spread over the battle fields have been
collected by children and used as toys with possibly devastating
consequences. The toxic nature of DU contamination is highlighted with the
U.S. Department of Defence erecting a highly secret $4 million facility in
Barnwall, South Carolina just to detoxify 22 military vehicles hit by
friendly fire. Some of the vehicles are so badly contaminated that they
have had to bury them.

    DAVID MULLER: The Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in the United States
tested Gulf War veterans suffering from Desert Storm Syndrome for radiation
toxicity following Gulf War veteran outrage and Congressional pressure.

    PROF. GUNTHER: My observations of the effects of DU contamination in
Iraq show a similarity described in the so-called Gulf-War-Syndrome of
U.S. and British soldiers in Kuwait. Right now one hears about odd
ailments among Gulf War veterans from the U.S., which could possibly be
attributed to contact with DU. One hears about hair loss, skin disease,
damage to different organs etc. Even pregnant women are giving birth to
crippled children. Many of these effects had remained unknown to the
    Newspapers recorded that a U.S. staff-sergeant held the view that many
soldiers now felt uncertain and fear that they may have been used as
Guinea-Pigs in a radiation experiment. Laura Flanders recently reported in
the Nation magazine on a U.S. Veterans Administration state-wide survey of
251 Gulf War veterans families in Mississippi. Of their children conceived
and born since the war, 67% have illnesses related to severe or missing
eyes, missing ears, blood infections, respiratory problems and fused

    DAVID MULLER: Which companies are still manufacturing DU weaponry?

    PROF. GUNTHER: Different types of DU ammunition have been manufactured
in the U.S. by Honeywell, Aerojet and others, the mass-production began in
1977. DU penetrators were extensively used for the first time during late
in the Gulf War in 1991, with impressive results. At present there exists
also mass-production in Britain and France and the export to other NATO
countries, as well as to Japan, Australia and New Zealand are not

    DAVID MULLER: Professor, Australia exports Uranium Yellow cake to
Europe ostensibly for peaceful purposes. From what I understand from your
speech you see collusion between commercial enrichment plants and the

    PROF. GUNTHER: Yes, it is a question of cutting costs. Generally
speaking, because of their toxicity and radioactivity, wastes from the
uranium industry are in Europe deposited in salt galleries. These wastes
must be safely deposited for a very long period of time. Such deposition
processes seem to be extremely expensive. So, to save money, the uranium
industry are giving depleted uranium, free of charge, to institutions or
others, who are interested in it.

    DAVID MULLER: One final question! I noticed that you are circulating a
petition about Depleted Uranium. What is the purpose of your organisation
Yellow Cross?

    PROF. GUNTHER: Yellow Cross International makes a vehement appeal for
the total ban of using DU ammunition as well as the newly developed laser
weapons provoking irreparable damage to the eyes. Since 1991 I have been
constantly warning about the DU dangers for the populations. Unfortunately
at that time only few people believed me. Also in Iraq!


For more information on the impacts of the military and sanctions war on the
people of Iraq, refer to the section entitled 'impact of war' in the Iraq
Action Coalition website (
For information on the effects of depleted uranium, refer to the section
under environment, in the impact of war page, or go directly to

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