The occupation of Iraq and the sufferings of Iraqis have been telecast by multiple channels to viewers all over the world. But most of the images have been used selectively in order to glorify the occupying forces rather than highlight the evil effects of war, particularly the vulnerability of the population to depleted uranium and the radiations caused by the extensive use of lethal weapons and the looting of radioactive material from at least seven nuclear sites. There is a genuine fear of environmental contamination in Iraq today.
Reports of cases of depleted uranium-induced syndrome is increasing every day in Iraq. The Greenpeace reported in its survey of the Tuwaitha site 20 kilometres east of Baghdad that the surrounding villages are contaminated by “frightening levels” of radioactive material. The organization said that had such a thing happened in the United Kingdom, or in the United States of America, villages around Tuwaitha would have been swarming with radiation experts and decontamination teams.
Depleted uranium was first used in a major way during the Gulf war. However, it has been in constant use throughout the period of low-intensity warfare from mid-1991 to mid-March 2003. The reconstruction efforts currently being carried out in Iraq may bring back water and electricity to the Iraqis, but would it wipe out the threat from depleted uranium'
The results of the use of such munitions since 1991 has already surfaced in a large number of health and ecological disasters. The worst victims of the ecological disaster have been children. Hospitals throughout Iraq have reported an over 10-fold increase in cancer rates and instances of children born with birth defects in the last 12 years. Studies show that malignancy and leukaemia among children under 15 have more than tripled since 1990. In 1990, children accounted for only 13 per cent of the cancer cases. In early 2002, over 56 per cent of the cancer patients in Iraq were children under the age of five. However, there is still no scientific consensus on the effects of depleted uranium.
Depleted uranium can percolate into the soil and is supposed to remain potent for over four billion years. Traces of the metal are supposed to cause infertility in both humans and the soil. Samples of soil, ground water and sediments in water canals close to bombarded tanks spread over five areas in Basra showed very high percentage of radiation. It goes without saying that the area in and around Basra will continue to be plagued by the ill-effects of the metal.
It is a fact, that the quantity of depleted uranium used in this war against Iraq is much higher than that used in 1991 when the UK and the US dropped napalm, cluster and air fuel bombs containing approximately 141,921 tonnes of explosives. The United Nations report following the war in 1991 noted that Iraq had been bombed into the pre-industrial age. The Pentagon too admits dropping 320 tonnes of depleted uranium on Iraq in 1991.
But the effects of depleted uranium became news only when the coalition forces became its victims. According to Gulf war veterans, almost 25 per cent of the US soldiers who had fought the first war against Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait are currently receiving disability benefits. This is twice the rate of disabilities among Vietnam veterans.
The US defence department is supposed to have told German and Swiss officials in January 2001 that depleted uranium munitions contained plutonium, neptunium and americium during the manufacturing process. When such a penetrator hits a target, it explodes and vapourizes. Depleted uranium is believed to be 60 per cent more radioactive than naturally occurring uranium.
Iraq since 1991 has made numerous requests to the Western powers for medical care and assistance to clean up the environment. There is a genuine fear now about the effects. But who listens to a nation that has lost a war'