This month, the US has deployed a type of aircraft to the Middle East responsible for more Depleted Uranium (DU) contamination than any other platform. Twelve ‘A-10’s have arrived in the region along with 300 US airmen.
Whether or not the aircraft will be used in areas under ISIL control has not been confirmed. Master Sgt Hubble of the 122nd Fighter Wing told Al Jazeera that although no explicit order for their use was currently in place, this position “could change at any moment. When that order comes, US crews may load PGU-14 depleted uranium rounds into 30mm Gatling cannons”. Hubble continued: “Should the need arise ‘to explode something – for example a tank – they will be used.”
The decision to position the controversial aircraft in the region comes against a backdrop of consultations at the highest diplomatic levels to remove DU as an international military resource.
The First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has been meeting to discuss a broad range of issues related to international security and peace. Several nations have presented appeals to the UNGA calling for study and mitigation of DU contamination in civilian areas.
DU is classed as a Group 1 Carcinogen by the World Health Organization, and evidence of health damage produced by its use is extensive. It has 40 percent less radioactivity than natural uranium – but the same chemical toxicity.
I fear DU is this generation's Agent Orange.
Jeena Shah at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) told Al Jazeera: “The US has denied a relationship between DU and health problems in civilians and veterans. Studies of UK veterans are highly suggestive of a connection. The US doesn’t want studies done.”
There has been a dramatic jump in miscarriages and premature births among Iraqi women, particularly in areas where heavy US military operations occurred, such as Fallujah during 2004, and Basra during the 1991 US war on Iraq.
A study titled “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009” surveyed more than 700 Fallujah households. The team carrying out the research interviewed Fallujans about abnormally high rates of cancer and birth defects. The health crisis it revealed was described by one of the studies authors as representing “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied.”
It is estimated that the US used 1,200 tonnes of DU munitions in Iraq during its 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation.
Contamination enters soil and water while contaminated scrap metal is recycled and used in factories or made into cooking pots or toys for children. If the locations of DU use are officially identified, these could suggest violations of the Geneva Conventions.
Meanwhile, the devastating risks of DU use to long term civilian health are visibly present in Iraq. Al Basra Maternity Hospital recorded the numbers of birth defects per 1,000 live births and found that in less than a decade, the occurrence of congenital birth defects increased by a disturbing 17-fold in that hospital alone.
Doctors working in another area of heavy US military DU use, Fallujah, report consistently large numbers of newborns with massive multiple systemic defects, immune problems, heart problems, and skeletal disorders.
US Congressman Jim McDermott told Al Jazeera: “There has been a sizable increase in childhood leukaemia and birth defects in Iraq since the Gulf War and our subsequent invasion in 2003. DU munitions were used in both those conflicts. There are also grave suggestions that DU weapons have caused serious health issues for our Iraq war veterans. I seriously question the use of these weapons until the US military conducts a full investigation into the effect of DU weapon residue on human beings.”
In 2012, a resolution on DU was supported by 155 nations and opposed by just the UK, the US, France, and Israel. Several nations have banned DU, and in June, Iraq proposed a global treaty banning it – a step also supported by the European and Latin American parliaments.
Numerous researchers found evidence of tungsten weapons being used by Israel in its latest assault on Gaza. Journalist and author Max Blumenthal told Al Jazeera: “I have evidence of DIME [tungsten] weaponry and possible use of thermobaric weapons.” He, like others, found no evidence of DU despite claims which appeared in Iranian media.
In July, several member nations, including Iraq, responded to the UN General Assembly’s invitation to give their findings on the effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium. A non-binding resolution is expected to be voted on by the committee this week, urging nations that have used DU to provide information on locations targeted. A number of organisations are petitioning US officials urging them not to oppose the resolution.
Wim Zwijnenburg of Pax and the author of a recent report on DU, said that he has found no evidence of DU use in Gaza or Syria, and that while the Ukrainian government has alleged its use in Eastern Ukraine, that has not been proven.
Meanwhile the Pentagon continues to dig its heels in over the legality of the US military’s reliance on DU rounds. Spokesman Mark Wright told Al Jazeera: “There is no prohibition against the use of Depleted Uranium rounds, and the [US military] does make use of them. The use of DU in armour-piercing munitions allows enemy tanks to be more easily destroyed.”
CCR and Iraq Veterans Against the War have filed a Freedom of Information Act Request in an attempt to learn the locations targeted in Iraq during and after the 1991 and 2003 invasions. The UK and the Netherlands have already revealed targeted locations, as did NATO, following DU use in the Balkans.
Iraqi doctors will be testifying to the damage done by DU before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, DC, in December.
In the meantime, the Obama Administration said on Thursday that it will be spending $1.6m to identify atrocities committed in Iraq by ISIL.
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