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[casi] FWD: [DU-WATCH] UMRC report from Iraq (part 3 of installment 1)

>===== Original Message From Piotr Bein <> =====
[disseminate to your networks, watch for next parts]
Abu Khasib to Al Ah’qaf: Iraq Gulf War II Field Investigations Report
© Uranium Medical Research Centre
November 2003

Part 3 of Installment 1

Coalition clean-up and soil replacement activities

The field team observed a concentrated effort by U.S. military engineering
units and Iraqi contractors escorted by U.S. army security forces in the
process of clean-up operations of bomb and battle sites. The most disturbing
circumstance was observed in the U.S. occupied base in south-western Baghdad
in the Auweirj district. It is close to the International Airport and hosts
one of the largest Coalition bases around Baghdad, occupying the operational
headquarters of the Iraqi Special Republican Guard. The area was subject to
considerable aerial bombing and rocket fire prior to the Coalition ground
forces' arrival followed by several ground skirmishes along the main routes
to the International Airport and western entrances to the City. This area is
adjacent to the Mansour District and the main route to many bridges crossing
the Tigris into the downtown core. Auweirj contains a wealthy residential
neighbourhood including the homes of many (former) Iraqi military officers
and the main barracks and staging area for the Republican Guard. Some of the
highest overall ambient air and ground surface radioactivity readings were
measured in Auweirj.

Throughout most of the year, Baghdad’s atmosphere is saturated by dust
blowing out of the western desert – a meteorological pattern called the
“Sharqi”. Its dust laden winds give an appearance of a fog blanketing the
horizon, reaching to a ceiling of ~2,000 meters. The dust and winds were not
present during the teams first few days in Baghdad – the city was
experiencing one of its brief periods of clear skies, windless and cooling
days typical of the late fall. Leaving the downtown core for Auweirj
requires crossing one of the elevated bridges over the Tigris River. The
raised bridge provides a long view towards the south/southwest. On October
1st, the team’s third day in Baghdad, this view was interrupted by an
enormous dust cloud hovering over a several hectare area, rising upwards of
300 meters (1000 ft). The cloud slowly traversed Auweirj, moving north
easterly towards the main residential neighbourhoods on the west side of the

As the team’s vehicle approached Auweirj, the cloud was blanketing the
Coalition-occupied base, depositing a layer of fresh dust on people, houses,
automobiles, and the highway. We had to turn on the windshield wipers.
Departing the Coalition-occupied base was a long, a steady stream of
tandem-axle dump trucks carrying full loads of sand, heading south away from
the city. Returning from the south was a second stream of fully loaded dump
trucks waiting to enter the base. As we passed the base’s main entrance, the
gates were opened to reveal bulldozers spreading soil while front-end
loaders were filling the trucks that had just emptied their loads of soil
(silt and sand). The arriving trucks were delivering loads of sand into the
base while the departing trucks were hauling away the base’s topsoil.

Interviews of roadside vendors revealed the U.S. had been, for months,
removing surface soil, trucking this material into the desert south-west of
the city and returning with fresh sand to build up a new surface. Being a
“dirty battlefield”, it was understandable that U.S. forces were removing
potentially contaminating soils from their living and working areas. But
this earth moving exercise appeared counterproductive if contamination was
the concern. The soil removal was lofting tonnes of fine, light dust into
the local environment, which was then falling back to inundate square
kilometres of residential neighbourhoods and Coalition occupied facilities.
In several locations, the potentially contaminated soils was dumped so as to
establish defensive berms and fill perimeter security caissons surrounding
occupied facilities. This practice was observed inside several cities.

The method of topsoil removal and replacement at U.S.-occupied bases, living
facilities and administrative buildings is mechanically resuspending tonnes
of potentially contaminated particulate. The dust clouds are lofting above
and spreading over the entire area -- 5,000,000 residents in Baghdad alone.
It is also exposing thousands of U.S. military personnel and the many
frequent foreign visitors including NGO staff, reconstruction crews,
business and trade delegates, and diplomatic and foreign service employees.

·       Landscaping the battlefields

Throughout the team’s tours to locate Baghdad area battlefields and
bombsites, mostly at the City’s southern and western approach points,
earth-moving crews were observed “landscaping” the battlefields. This work
began shortly after the cessation of the major combat engagements in
Baghdad. The U.S. is conducting a systematic but incomplete effort to
isolate and rectify contaminated sites. The program began with removing
damaged and disabled military assets. Emphasis has been placed on the
visible sites easily accessed along the roads and highways.  Most Iraqi
tanks, APC’s and artillery pieces have been winched out of their defensive
positions, loaded onto flatbeds and transported to the tank graveyards in
Auweirj and the occupied airports. In Baghdad, there remains a small number
of damaged tanks and other disabled armoured assets along secondary roads,
back yards, and in farm fields. Because of security risks to U.S. forces,
they are either not permitted or are understandably disinclined to venture
away from the major highways to finish the clean up. With the growing
security problems and attacks, resources are being returned to combat duty.

Following the removal of Iraqi military assets, U.S. engineering divisions
supervise the landscaping program. Press report the battlefield-landscaping
program as a cleanup (largely represented by covering over with soil) of UXO
(unexploded ordnance) and other dangerous debris left in the many combat
areas. The program has not been declared as a clean up of radioactive
contamination. Heavy trucks bring in topsoil and debris recycled from the
combat and bomb damaged, now Coalition-occupied facilities, and spread it in
a course and uneven layer – it is not graded or levelled – leaving the
surface impossible to drive on and very difficult to walk on.  The backfill
is used to cover ad hoc battlefield graveyards, diesel, kerosene and oil
spills, an extensive array and high quantity of unexploded tank munitions,
pools of loose high-explosive polymer fills, unexploded mines and cluster
munitions, and uranium oxide deposits surrounding burned-out and
penetrator-defeated Iraqi tank defensive positions. While UMRC was
investigating the Auweirj tank graveyard, UXO’s were exploding in the hot
sun. In the Al Basra area the team was shaken by the spontaneous detonation
of a UXO. At that same Basra location, days before, a child was killed by a
spontaneous explosion as he walked through the battlefield in the date palm
orchard next to his house.

·       Clean-up operations missing or avoiding radioactive tanks and uranium
oxide deposits

Battlefield landscaping operations are most extensive in Baghdad although
they have been carried out to lesser degrees elsewhere. Locals report that
the Coalition troops are careful to avoid the radioactive sites and
radioactive, disabled Iraqi assets. UMRC interviewed residents, a municipal
engineer and industrial workers in Nasiriyah and Basra who witnessed
post-conflict battlefield inspections, describing these in detail. The team
s radiation surveys of these sites demonstrate that Coalition forces are
missing or avoiding several high-risk areas. Three examples are outlined

1.      U.S. clean-up in Baghdad:

Baghdad Gate, Route 6, is the main entry point to the city from the south.
The Gate is a massive concrete monument with a double archway spreading over
the six-lane, divided highway. One kilometre north of the gate is a main
interchange where traffic entering the city can follow a cloverleaf ramp
onto an overhead highway, proceeding northbound on the west side of the
Tigris to access any of several bridges entering the city. Vehicles can go
northwesterly towards the airport or enter the many suburban neighbourhoods.
Baghdad Gate was strategically important to the Iraqi defence of Baghdad due
to the intersection of the main northbound highways, flanked by the river
and forcing all traffic into a slow moving bottleneck.

Iraqi tanks and anti-aircraft guns established a major defensive position
beside and under the Gate, dug into tank pits and foxholes in the trees and
hiding in the orchard perimeter east of the highway. The position stretched
a kilometre under mature tree cover.  Iraqi command and control was nested
underneath the criss-cross of overhead highway exit ramps of the six lane
elevated highway. A small date palm orchard behind the tanks and artillery
positions provided cover for infantry snipers and chain guns. An anti-tank,
anti-aircraft unit was stationed under the northbound archway of the
monument. Two hundred yards to the east is a village type suburb housing
farmers, small merchants and commuters. There is a roadside picnic area
under the trees with automobile pull-off lanes on either side where
merchants sell refreshments and gasoline to highway travellers. On the
western side of the highway are the remnants of a small medical clinic
destroyed by an U.S. rocket during the engagement at Baghdad Gate.

According to a roadside merchant selling gasoline next to the monument, a
stiff battle ensued here. He watched as helicopter gun-ships and armoured
vehicles engaged the Iraqi’s position. He described Iraqi tank crews bailing
out of rocketed and burning tanks to be killed by a hail of both U.S.
suppression fire and their own friendly fire as they ran towards the orchard
for cover. This man personally collected and buried 23 bodies in the field
next to Baghdad Gate – a graveyard now covered over by Coalition battlefield
landscaping operations. The merchant explained that he was a soldier in
Desert Storm, Gulf War I and knew the danger of uranium toxicity from U.S.
and British ordnance. He said he was careful only to bury Iraqi soldiers and
tank crewmen killed by friendly fire, small arms and aircraft. He was afraid
to handle the bodies of Iraqi troops and civilians killed by Coalition tank
rounds and A-10 suppression fire.

Baghdad Gate exemplifies Coalition landscaping operations in the U.S.
controlled areas in the capital. The battlefield was large and complex,
requiring three field visits to survey. By the third visit the battleground
was almost completely covered with piles of sand and bombed-out building
debris trucked into the site and pushed over most of the combat area. During
the second visit to this site, while completing the radiation survey of
burned-out tank defensive positions on one end of the battlefield, a U.S.
security patrol in HUMWVE’s with top-mounted 50 calibre machineguns was
guarding Iraqi contractors as they spread the fill  towards us.

The covering over of this radioactive battlefield was careless and
incomplete. Left open and exposed were the scorched and twisted remains of
tanks decimated by continuous heavy fire of high explosive rockets and
radioactive kinetic penetrators. The remaining metal parts, tank treads,
clothing and piles of spent and unspent ammunition littered foxholes and
defensive pits where tanks and other assets had been hidden to lower their
profiles. Several emplacements, visible as circular burn (DU oxide pools)
patches 8 to 10 meters in diameter remained uncovered and undisturbed by the
landscaping operation. The field team was invited to join a travelling Iraqi
family that had stopped here to have lunch. They were seated on a concrete
bench less than 6 metres from a radioactive source measuring ~200 X’s the
already elevated, Baghdad reference level.

2.      Abandoning radioactive tanks in Nasiriyah:

During the opening days of Rapid Dominance, the north-west corridor through
Nasiriyah was defended by an Iraqi mechanised, heavy armour group. The
battle for control of the entry to Nasiriyah centred on the bridge across
the Euphrates River and was reported by US embedded reporters to be one of
the toughest engagements fought by the 1st U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force.
To defend this approach point and slow the Coalition’s advance, five T-72
Russian-built MBT’s (main battle tanks) were dug into a low-ground position
between the road and the adjacent Aluminium Fabrication and Engineering
Company’s employees’ residential quarters. This was a typical Iraqi
defensive position, close to urban cover, occupying the low ground, not the
high ground, extending the survival time by avoiding close in air cavalry
attacks, and limiting visibility by oncoming forces with an escape route at
the back.

In August, an U.S. forces post-conflict investigation and recovery team,
accompanied by heavily armed security arrived to conduct a radiation survey
of the battlefield. They were observed by residents of the adjacent houses
who, in their curiosity, approached the survey team. The residents watched
as each tank was inspected with G-M counters. The survey team called in two
flat bed trucks and a heavy winching unit. Two of the five tanks were pulled
up and out of the battlefield, over a steep and difficult pitch and on to
the flatbeds. From here they were transported to a secure location at the
Coalition occupied airport. Seven months after the battle, and three months
after the US survey team had removed the two tanks, UMRC investigated this
battlefield to find the three remaining tanks were radioactive. The tanks
had been disabled by a combination of low-trajectory delivered
non-explosive, kinetic penetrators and direct armour, explosively-formed or
shaped charge penetrators (e.g., probably by mechanised infantry vehicles or
manually fired rockets). Neither top munitions nor air delivered penetrator
entry channels were found on these tanks.

The radioactive ballistic penetrations were clearly visible on the turrets
and chassis of the three MBT’s, generating G-M count levels several hundred
times background. The residents of the houses located within 30 metre of the
tanks reported being warned by the U.S. survey team. Teenagers in a group
watching the survey work and tank removal were advised by an interpreter not
to play in the tanks because they could get sick.

3.      British investigations at Abu Khasib fail to post warnings or remove

The advance on Al Basra was commanded by the British under the code name,
Operation James (a sub-division of Operation Telic). The 7 Armoured Division
’s joint operations included the famous Desert Rats of the 3rd Commando
Brigade and attachments from the Australian armed forces (Operation
Falconer). They engaged the toughest of the Iraqi armoured divisions during
what is reported to have been the heaviest combat witnessed during the 26
days of combat. The approach to Al Basra was defended by three Iraqi
mechanised tank divisions, marine units using the canals and rivers, and a
host of paramilitary and local resistance groups. UMRC found the largest
concentration of disabled Iraqi MBT’s and the largest battlefield in Iraq at
Abu Khasib, south of Al Basra. Al Basra, the second largest city in Iraq,
with 1.5 million residents, was under the control of the British forces at
the time of UMRC’s investigation.

Unlike Baghdad, where U.S. forces have carried out soil removal and
replacement, battlefield landscaping and military hardware retrieval
operations, the Al Basra’s combat areas remain largely unchanged over the
seven months since the end of the battle. Witnesses interviewed in this area
report that a British army radiation survey team inspected the large Abu
Khasib battlefield. The UK team arrived to the area dressed in bright white,
full-body radiation suites with protective facemasks and gloves. They were
accompanied by translators who were ordered to warn residents and local
salvage and recycling crews (typically described as looters in the western
press) that the tanks in this battlefield are radioactive and must be

The British team surveyed tanks and APC’s (Armoured Personnel Carriers) in
which UMRC later found the highest number, highest levels and highest
concentrations of radioactive source points and hot spots throughout its
13-day field trip. According to several persons interviewed, the UK MOD
survey team strongly encouraged a group of bystanders to post signs on the
tanks warning of the dangers of radioactivity to children, salvagers and
curiosity seekers. The British forces have taken no steps to post warnings,
seal tanks and APC’s or remove the highly radioactive assets. The team found
radioactivity in and around most tanks in this battlefield as well as
elevated readings on the soil surface, in the air and inside occupied
buildings situated in the battlefield.

The British Army 2 Close Support Regiment (Royal Logistics Corp) has posted
on the Internet, photographs showing the burned-out remains of an Iraqi MBT
in Abu Khasib. This particular tank was, coincidentally, inspected by UMRC’s
field team. It remains as a curiosity-seekers attraction on the roadside
between Abu Khasib and Al Basra. The tank’s diesel engine and several forged
metal parts have been removed and recycled into the community. The
direct-armour, uranium kinetic penetrator’s entry channels can be seen in
the MOD photo at the base of the main gun. The tank was also hit by a rocket
or HEAT (high-explosive anti tank) round that kicked the turret off its
rotary mount. This tank’s radioactivity readings are 200 X’s background.
Tens of thousands of unexploded rounds of ammunition (UXO) and ballistic
debris still litter the Abu Khasib and Basra battlefields. British security
and stabilisation forces are regularly seen touring this neighbourhood but
are careful not to approach the battlefields and disabled Iraqi tanks.

[end of installment 1]

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