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Three by Fisk on DU: "The evidence lies dying in Basra"

Following are three pieces by and about Robert Fisk of The Independent,
concerning on the effects of Depleted Uranium in Iraq and Kosovo.  Fisk
mentions an aborted WHO study on DU in Iraq ...  If anyone has more on this
subject, could they please post?

The evidence lies dying in Basra 

By Robert Fisk in Beirut 
The Independent

25 January 2000 

In IRAQ, there are doctors aplenty who would like to meet the Royal
Society's scientists. In the main Basra teaching hospital, the cancer
sufferers who live near the fields where depleted uranium shells (DU) were
fired by the hundred in 1991 queue at the door of the tiny cancer clinic
each morning. But will the British scientists meet them? 

Will they go to Iraq and study the documentation of Basra's leading cancer
specialist, Dr Jawad al-Ali, who has maps showing the rate of leukemia
growth in the areas where Saddam's tanks were torn apart by DU in the last
days of the war? 

I think not. When Iraq asked the World Health Organisation to investigate DU
two years ago, a team of experts arrived to see if such a study was
feasible; but no investigation took place. And what about Kosovo? The US
used DU rounds in its attacks across the Serb province - and then arrogantly
refused to tell UN investigators the location of its attacks. The Foreign
Secretary, Robin Cook, admitted as much in the Commons last autumn. Why? Why
cannot we be told where these rounds were fired? 

Will the Royal Society's experts visit Kosovo? Will they ask Nato for the
information it refused to give to the UN? And what if Nato treats them with
the same disdain? 

They could do worse, for example, than visit the bombed-out paramilitary
police barracks in Djakovica, where DU fired by American A-10 aircraft
exploded in the very centre of the city. But will they go to other parts of
Yugoslavia? Will they visit the areas around Belgrade where DU was also
used? Will the British government, indeed, allow them to go there? 

And what kind of brief is it that tells the scientists they are to "review
the available evidence"? If this is to be anything more than a palliative to
shut up the Gulf War veterans who suspect they are dying of DU poisoning,
these six experts have to find the available evidence lying in the fields of
Kosovo and southern Iraq, not just trawl through published reports and
military denials. At one of Nato's May press conferences, spokesman James
Shea stated that there was no evidence suggesting DU was dangerous, citing a
report which turned out to be inaccurate. Is this the sort of stuff the
experts will be "reviewing"? 

For almost two years, Defence Ministry officials have been claiming in
letters to MPs that "the Government has not seen any peer-reviewed
epidemiological research data" on affected populations, mentioning my own
reports in The Independent of deformities, cancers and birth defects in
southern Iraq. Is this, then, what this team is meant to do - to provide the
Government with some "peer-reviewed" data without any serious on-site
inspection? I rather suspect it is. 


Tuesday, November 30, 1999  
The Irish Times

Iraqi child cancers link to Gulf War weapons 
By Patsy McGarry 

The journalist and author Robert Fisk last night said "an explosion of child
cancers" in southern Iraq appeared to be intimately linked to weapons used
by US-led forces in the Gulf War.

Similar weapons were used in the bombing of Kosovo and Serbia, he said, and
he claimed that NATO bombed the Serbian television station on April 23rd
this year when the Serbian Information Minister, Mr Aleksandar Vucic, was
expected to be in the building for a CNN interview. Mr Vucic had cancelled
the interview some hours earlier.

Mr Fisk was delivering the third Christina Murphy Memorial Lecture, "Cancer
and Guns: reporting `Our' Wars", at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin. It
followed the awarding of the Christina Murphy Memorial Prize for student
journalists to Mr James Dunne of Templeogue, Dublin.

The prize is sponsored by the National Council for Education Awards in
honour of the late Ms Murphy, the Education Editor of The Irish Times who
pioneered the paper's Education and Living supplement. It was presented by
Mr Dermot Mullane, her widower. 

Mr Fisk spoke of recent visits to Iraq and uncovering evidence of an
unusually high incidence of cancer there since the Gulf War, particularly
since in the south. In Basra, where the last tank battles of the war had
been fought, people were reporting "footballsized tomatoes, carrots of a
strange purple colour, water that no longer tasted normal".

In southern Iraq American forces had fired an estimated 14,000 depleted
uranium shells (about 300 million tons), while their A-10 aircraft fired
"tens of thousands of rounds tipped with depleted uranium, some say 940,000

Depleted uranium, he said, "is now routinely used in the manufacture of an
armour-piercing projectiles". These are used mainly in the destruction of

According to Britain's Ministry of Defence its forces used fewer than 100
depleted uranium shells, Mr Fisk said.

However, he thought "some of the thousands of western soldiers now suffering
from what is know as Gulf War Syndrome think differently about the British

Mr Fisk illustrated visits he had made to a Baghdad children's hospital last
year with photographs of young patients who had come from regions where
there had been massive American bombing, all of whom had since died.

He said that "a requested research survey by the World Health Organisation
never took place", while Britain's then armed forces minister, Mr Doug
Henderson, said that as no "peer reviewed epidemiological research data" on
the claims had taken place, "it would therefore be premature to comment on
this matter".

Mr Fisk said US forces also used uranium-depleted weaponry in Kosovo and
central Serbia. "Their A-10 aircraft were using it across Kosovo," he said.
One such aircraft took part in the NATO attack on a 12-mile long convoy of
Albanian refugees on April 14th, killing 80 civilians.

He had spoken to one survivor recently who said one of her female relatives
now had a kidney problem. "I didn't dare think, let alone suggest, what this
might be," he said. And the promised NATO investigation into the massacre
had not taken place.
I'd like to believe Nato that depleted uranium is harmless. But I don't. And
this is why... 

Robert Fisk 
The Independent

04 October 1999 

TWO MILITARY voices on the use of depleted uranium bullets in Kosovo. First
from a K-For cove - a spokesman, no less, in Pristina - who insisted that
"there's more risk from striking a match than from depleted uranium." Quote
of the week, Quote of the year, perhaps. Then there was the former Nato
officer to whom I talked that same night, a weapons expert, former RAF,
whose job is to wander Kosovo in search of unexploded (and exploded)
weapons. "I'm definitely suspicious any time I hear the word uranium," he
told me. "A weapon isn't there to do you any good. The boffins have come up
with this weapon. People who use it - or are on the receiving end - know
only part of the facts. I'm very suspicious whenever I hear the word

So am I. On Wednesday, 14 April, Nato bombed a convoy of Kosovo Albanian
refugees on the road between Djakovica and Prizren, saying - initially -
that they may have been bombed by Serb aircraft. A day later, along with
Julian Manyon of Channel 4, I found - beside the chopped-up corpses of the
innocent dead - a series of craters in the soft earth beside the highway.
"That's what the A-10 aircraft craters looked like in the Gulf," Manyon
said. And - I prefer to forget the next bit - I dug with my bare hands into
the craters to see if I could find any piece of ordnance that carried some
trace of the weapon's manufacturer. I did. I found metal fragments with
codes stamped on them. They were American. 

And Nato then admitted that it had bombed the Albanians "in error", because
it thought they were a convoy of Serb armour. But I put the pieces of
shrapnel into a plastic bag, laid it on my hotel table in Belgrade. Small
and burned they were, bright silver under my table lamp. Then I decided -
too late, perhaps - that they might be depleted uranium rounds, and dumped
them in my hotel rubbish bin. Did I carry U-238 in my schoolboy's
shoulder-bag back to Belgrade that night, the detritus of nuclear fuel, the
cause of all those cancerous tumours I saw breaking through the stomachs of
Iraqi children less than a year before? 

That question explains why I like to hear those K-For/Nato spokesmen telling
me about the harmlessness - the absolute lack of hazard - of depleted
uranium. I don't believe them. But I'd like them to be right. I don't think
they are. Here's why. 

After Britain began the test-firing of DU shells in Cumbria and south- west
Scotland, radiation reports showed serious contamination near Eskmeals,
Cumbria, and Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway. "Well above acceptable
limits," the Ministry of Defence was to acknowledge later. At Eskmeals, they
fire shells into a tunnel which is then washed out, the dust sealed in
concrete containers. When a fire broke out at the Royal Ordnance Speciality
Metals plant near Wolverhampton, where DU munitions are made, the National
Radiological Protection Board said it had monitored "odd bits of DU". 

In April, 1991, the UK Atomic Energy Authority expressed concern about DU
contamination in Kuwait. "It would be unwise for people to stay close to
large quantities of DU for long periods," it said. "There will be specific
areas in which many rounds will have been fired where localised
contamination of vehicles and the soil may exceed permissible limits and
these could be hazardous to both clean up teams and the local population." 

In Iraq in 1997, I discovered thousands of civilians dying of cancers,
families never touched by cancer before, mothers giving birth to children
with leukemia, monstrous births of deformed babies, old men who lived in the
farmlands south of Basra amid the very armoured wreckage which we, the
Allies, had blasted with our uranium shells, who talked to me of sudden
cancer deaths, of daughters with breast and liver cancer. 

My favourite is a letter from the Ministry of Defence, sent almost word-
for-word the same to several readers of The Independent. The author was Doug
Henderson, then a Defence minister, famous for his patriotic speeches during
the Kosovo bombardment. "The Government is aware of suggestions in the
press, particularly by Robert Fisk of the Independent," he writes, "that
there has been an increase in ill-health - including alleged deformities,
cancers and birth defects - in southern Iraq, which some have attributed to
the use of depleted uranium (DU) based ammunition by UK and US forces....
However, the Government has not seen any peer-reviewed epidemiological
research data on this population to support these claims." 

I really like that bit about the "peer-reviewed epidemiological research
data". Indeed, Mr Henderson has seen none. Because the British have no
intention of carrying out any such survey. The World Health Organisation
(now in Pristina) was originally asked by the Iraqis to conduct just such a
survey. It never materialised. So much for the "epidemiological research
data". But let's just remember the massive fire at the US ammunition storage
base at Doha in Kuwait in July, 1991, when 3,200 kilograms of DU in tank
rounds exploded. "Uranium particles when breathed can be hazardous," the US
Central Command stated later. "11ACR (the US command at Doha) has been
informed to treat the area as though it were a chemical area, ie stay upwind
and wear a protective mask in the vicinity." 

And let's recall, too, the cleanup of DU contamination at the DU
manufacturers in Concord, Massachusetts, and at Sandia National Laboratory
and Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico (a test-firing range); the topsoil
had to be removed, the US army stated. And the cost of cleaning just 500
acres of an Indiana DU proving ground has been estimated at around 3bn. In
the Gulf, the US Defense Department estimates 315 tons of DU was fired. And
how much in Kosovo? We are not being told. 

No details. No comment. No clean-up. Did the A-10s fire DU munitions around
Pristina? Pec? Djakovica? Prizren? Mitrovica? And where did they fire these
munitions in what we now like to call "Serbia proper"? "What we say about
DU," K-For's spokesman told me, "is that it is harmful if you digest it,
like any other heavy metal. The most dangerous period is 15 minutes after
the explosion. Then it goes to the ground and sinks." Which is not true. The
dust floats around, contaminates the air, almost certainly kills. I read to
the spokesman an aid agency's warning about DU - the threat of contamination
was very low, the warning said, but the residual dust "could pose an
inhalation hazard. Children should not play on or near these vehicles. The
minimum prescribed safe distance is no less than 50 metres." Yes, said the
spokesman, "these are the official lines - I've seen this information in
other briefings. There's nothing new in that, so to speak." 

So to speak. Oddly enough, the K-For man had, without knowing it, captured
the very essence of depleted uranium shells and bullets when he talked about
the supposedly greater danger of lighting a match. For when they explode, DU
rounds apply enormous kinetic energy over a small surface area of armour,
igniting with a fire which veterans called "Dante's Inferno"; it burns and
pulverises into a dust that soars into the sky in a heat column from a
burning tank and drifts over the desert or fields. Over 90,000 US troops who
served in the Gulf have reported medical problems. There is no legislation
specifically outlawing DU. But Article 35 of Additional Protocol 1 of the
1977 Geneva Convention states that "it is prohibited to employ methods or
means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause
widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment." So is
DU legal? 

Doug Rokke was a US army doctor who went to the Gulf to help clean up the DU
contamination after the 1991 Gulf War. But now his lungs are scarred, he has
kidney damage and breathing difficulties, like some of the cancer sufferers
in Iraq. The aim of the Kosovo war, he said after the conflict had ended,
"is to enable the Kosovars to return home. But unless the uranium is cleaned
up, those that survive the Serb atrocities and the Nato aerial attacks will
have to return to a contaminated environment where they may become ill."
Nothing new in that, I suppose. So to speak. Strike a light. 

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