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[casi] Another U.S. war crime? Iraqi cities 'hot' with depleted uranium

Another U.S. war crime?
Iraqi cities 'hot' with depleted uranium
By Sara Flounders

Has U.S. use of depleted-uranium weapons turned Iraq into a radioactive
danger area for both Iraqis and occupation troops?

This question has already had serious consequences. In hot spots in downtown
Baghdad, reporters have measured radiation levels that are 1,000 to 1,900
times higher than normal background radiation levels.

It has also opened a debate in the Netherlands parliament and media as 1,100
Dutch troops in Kuwait prepare to enter Iraq as part of the U.S./British-led
occupation forces. The Dutch are concerned about the danger of radioactive
poisoning and radiation sickness in Iraq.

Washington has assured the Dutch government that it used no DU weapons near
Al-Samawah, the town where Dutch troops will be stationed. But Dutch
journalists and anti-war forces have already found holes in the U.S.
stories, according to an article on the Radio Free Europe website.

DU-caused radiation had already raised alarms in Europe after studies showed
increased rates of cancers, respiratory ailments and other disabilities of
occupation troops from NATO countries stationed in Bosnia, Kosovo and

In general, the health and environmental dangers of weapons made with DU
radioactive waste have received far more attention in Europe than in the

In this year's war on Iraq, the Pentagon used its radioactive arsenal mainly
in the urban centers, rather than in desert battlefields as in 1991. Many
hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people and U.S. soldiers, along with British,
Polish, Japanese and Dutch soldiers sent to join the occupation, will suffer
the consequences. The real extent of injuries, chronic illness, long-term
disabilities and genetic birth defects won't be apparent for five to 10

By now, half of all the 697,000 U.S. soldiers involved in the 1991 war have
reported serious illnesses. According to the American Gulf War Veterans
Association, more than 30 percent of these soldiers are chronically ill and
are receiving disability benefits from the Veterans Administration. Such a
high occurrence of various symptoms has led to the illnesses being named
Gulf War Syndrome.

This number of disabled veterans is shockingly high. Most are in their
mid-thirties and should be in the prime of health. Before sending troops to
the Gulf region, the military had already sifted out those with disabilities
or chronic health problems from asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, cancers
and birth defects.

A long-term problem

The impact of tons of radioactive waste polluting major urban centers may
seem a distant problem to Iraqis now trying to survive in the chaos of
military occupation. They must cope with power outages during the intense
heat of summer, door-to-door searches, arbitrary arrests, civilians
routinely shot at roadblocks, outbreaks of cholera and dysentery from
untreated water, untreated sewage and uncollected garbage, more than half
the work force unemployed, and a lack of food--which before the war was
distributed by the Baathist regime.

But along with these current threats are long-range problems. Around the
world a growing number of scientific organizations and studies have linked
Gulf War Syndrome and the high rate of assorted and mysterious sicknesses to
radiation poisoning from weapons made with depleted uranium.

Scott Peterson, a staff writer for the Christian Science Moni tor, reported
on May 15 about taking Geiger counter readings at several sites in Baghdad.
Near the Republican Palace where U.S. troops stood guard and over 1,000
employees walked in and out of the building, his radiation readings were the
"hottest" in Iraq, at nearly 1,900 times background radiation levels. Spent
shell casings still littered the ground.

At a roadside vegetable stand selling fresh bunches of parsley, mint and
onions outside Baghdad, children played on a burnt-out Iraqi tank. The
reporter's Geiger counter registered nearly 1,000 times normal background ra
diation. The U.S. uses armor-piercing shells coated with DU to destroy

The Aug. 4 Seattle Post Intelligencer reported elevated radiation levels at
six sites from Basra to Baghdad. One destroyed tank near Baghdad had 1,500
times the normal background radiation. "The Pentagon and the United Nations
estimate that the U.S. and Britain used 1,100 to 2,200 tons of
armor-piercing shells made of depleted uranium during attacks on Iraq in
March and April--far more than the 375 tons used in the 1991 Gulf War,"
wrote the Post Intelligencer.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle analyzed swabs from
bullet holes in Iraqi tanks and confirmed elevated radiation levels.

Radioactive and toxic

The extremely dense DU shells easily penetrate steel armor and burn on
impact. The fire releases microscopic, radioactive and toxic dust particles
of uranium oxide that travel with the wind and can be inhaled or ingested.
They also spread contamination by seeping into the land and water.

In the human body, DU may cause harm to the internal organs due both to its
chemical toxicity as a heavy metal and its release of radiation.

An otherwise useless by-product of the uranium-enrichment process, DU is
attractive to military contractors because it is so cheap, often offered for
free by the government.

According to the Uranium Medical Research Center, the toxic and radiological
effects of uranium contamination may weaken the immune system. They may
cause acute respiratory conditions like pneumonia, flu-like symptoms and
severe coughs, renal or gastrointestinal illnesses.

Dr. Asaf Durakovic of UMRC explains that the initial symptoms will be mostly
neurological, showing up as headaches, weakness, dizziness and muscle
fatigue. The long-term effects are cancers and other radiation-related
illnesses, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, joint and muscle pain, rashes,
neurological and/or nerve damage, mood disturbances, infections, lung and
kidney damage, vision problems, auto-immune deficiencies and severe skin
conditions. It also causes increases in miscarriages, maternal mortality and
genetic birth defects.

For years the government described Gulf War Syndrome as a post-traumatic
stress disorder. It was labeled a psychological problem or simply dismissed
as mysterious unrelated ailments. In this same way the Pentagon and the
Veterans Administration treated the health problems of Vietnam vets
suffering from Agent Orange poisoning.

The coverup

The U.S. government denies that DU weapons can cause sickness. But before
the first Gulf War, where DU weapons were used extensively, the Pentagon's
own internal reports warned that the radiation and heavy metal of DU weapons
could cause kidney, lung and liver damage and increased rates of cancer.

Ignoring these dangers, the Pentagon went on to use these weapons, which
gave it a big advantage in tank battles. But it denied publicly that DU use
was related to the enormously high rate of sicknesses among GIs following
the war.

Today the Pentagon plays an even more duplicitous role. It continues to
assert that there are no "known" health problems associated with DU. But
Army training manuals require anyone who comes within 75 feet of any
DU-contaminated equipment or terrain to wear respiratory and skin

The manuals say that "contamination will make food and water unsafe for
consumption." According to the Army Environmental Policy Institute, holding
a spent DU round exposes a person to about 200 rems per hour, or twice the
annual radiation exposure limit.

This March and April U.S. and British forces fired hundreds of thousands of
DU rounds in dense urban areas. Superfine uranium oxide particles were blown
about in dust storms. Yet the Pentagon refuses to track, report or mark off
where DU was fired. There is no way Iraqis or the occupying soldiers can
keep 75 feet away or use respiratory and skin protection in 120-degree heat.

The American Gulf War Veterans Association (AGWVA) reports that suffering
veterans are receiving little, if any, medical treatment for their
illnesses. "Whenever veterans become ill, the term 'mystery illness' seems
to be the first and often the only diagnosis that is ever made. Veterans are
then left to fend for themselves, sick and unable to work, with little hope
of a normal life again."

Iraq's National Ministry of Health organized two international conferences
to present data on the relationship between the high incidence of cancer and
the use of DU weapons. It produced detailed epidemiological reports and
statistical studies. This data showed a six-fold increase in breast cancer,
a five-fold increase in lung cancer and a 16-fold increase in ovarian

Because of the U.S.-imposed sanctions, Iraqi doctors and scientists were
barred from presenting their research papers in most of the world.

Doug Rokke of AGWVA, former head of the U.S. Army DU Project, who is
seriously ill with respiratory problems, has been campaigning against the
use of DU. Rokke reports that U.S. troops presently in Iraq are already
falling sick with a series of Gulf War Syndrome symptoms.

The AGWVA says the Department of Defense has information regarding "mystery"
deaths of soldiers in this latest war and the emergence of a mysterious
pneumonia that has sickened at least 100 men and women.

U.S. position: no clean-up

While the U.K. has admitted that British Challenger tanks expended some 1.9
tons of DU ammunition during major combat operations in Iraq this year, the
U.S. has refused to disclose specific information about whether and where it
used DU during this yearcampaign. It also is refusing to let a team from the
United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) study the environmental impact
of DU contamination in Iraq.

Despite this refusal, it is public knowledge that the U.S. made extensive
use of weapons that can fire DU shells. These include the A-10 Warthog
tank-buster aircraft with 30-mm cannons that can fire up to 4,200 DU rounds
per minute; the AC-130 gunship; the "Apache" helicopter, and Bradley
fighting vehicles that fire anti-armor 105-mm to 120-mm tank rounds
containing DU.

The U.S. followed the same tactics in the wars in the Balkans. While
claiming full cooperation with UNEP's Balkans studies, the Pentagon delayed
releasing target locations for 16 months. It gave misleading map
information. Then bomb, missile and cluster-bomb targets were excluded. NATO
allowed 10 other teams to visit or clean up sites before UNEP inspections

Washington refuses to acknowledge DU use anywhere or that it poses any
danger. To acknowledge radiation poisoning would immediately raise demands
for a cleanup.

According to Alex Kirby, BBC News Online environment correspondent: "The
U.S. says it has no plans to remove the debris left over from depleted
uranium weapons it is using in Iraq. It says no cleanup is needed, because
research shows DU has no long-term effects."

Evidence of DU use

But in the information age, the Pentagon can't suppress all the evidence.
The Dutch example shows this. Though the U.S. government specifically denied
any firing of DU weapons near the city of Al-Samawah, where Dutch troops
were to be stationed, a simple Internet search by journalists undid this

The Dutch government, to get a resolution through the parliament to
authorize sending troops to Iraq, depicted the Al-Samawah region as a
remote, barely inhabited desert where no noteworthy events had occurred.

In actual fact, Al-Samawah is strategically located on the road from Basra
to Baghdad, providing access to a bridge over the Euphrates River. On its
march to Baghdad, the U.S. Army encountered fierce resistance from Iraqi
forces there, according to American officers. This was well covered by their
embedded media.

It was more than a week before the town and the road were cleared of all
pockets of resistance. Some 112 civilians, most of them inhabitants of
Al-Samawah, were killed in battle.

DU ammunition was widely used during this operation. In a widely distributed
field message, Sergeant First Class Cooper reported that the weapons systems
used by the 3rd Infantry, 7th Cavalry, en route to Al-Samawah and on to
Najaf, were performing well, especially the 25-mm DU and 7.62.

Of greater interest to Internet researchers was a letter a young soldier
sent home to his parents, which they posted in their church bulletin on the
Internet. In the letter E. Pennell, a crew member on a Bradley Fighting
Vehicle of the 1st Infantry Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, described how
his crew fired a 25-mm DU round as they encountered seven Iraqi troops in
the town of Al-Samawah.

Pennell's letter has raised concern among groups like the United Federation
of Military Personnel, a kind of labor union for Dutch troops. It fears that
its members might be at risk of contracting cancer or other diseases because
of exposure to DU ammunition.

Resistence: the only solution

Officers and politicians in imperialist countries have always treated
rank-and-file soldiers as cannon fodder. These young lives are totally
expendable. The occupied or colonized people are not counted at all.

As a global movement against imperialist wars grew over the past century,
military planners made great efforts to hide the true costs of war,
especially the human cost. The nearly 60,000 U.S. casualties in the Vietnam
War provoked a mighty mass anti-war movement. This time, long before U.S.
casualties reached 100 soldiers, the movement to "Bring the Troops Home" had
gained momentum.

This new movement must demand a true accounting of the enormous human costs
of the war. The impact on the health and future of not only U.S. troops but
the millions of people in Iraq must be part of the demand.

A growing international movement must demand full reparations for the Iraqi
people. A cleanup of the toxic, radioactive waste is in the interests of all
the people of the region. The cost of the war must be calculated in terms of
bankrupt social programs here in the U.S. and the health of all the people
who were in the region during the war and will be in the years to come.

Sara Flounders is co-director of the International Action Center and
coordinator of the DU Education Project. She is an editor and a contributing
author of the book "Metal of Dishonor: Depleted Uranium," and helped produce
a video by the same name. The IAC helped organize an international effort to
bring the issue of DU to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva and helped
measure radiation levels in Iraq before the 2003 war.

Reprinted from the Aug. 21, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper

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