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US claims no depleted uranium used in second Fallujah siege

Following a lengthy Freedom of Information process, the US has claimed that no depleted uranium weapons were used in the Iraqi city of Fallujah during Operation Phantom Fury in November and December 2004. However, it has also revealed that no records were kept on the use of the weapons in Fallujah prior to July 2004.
18 April 2011 - ICBUW

In response to growing international concern over reported increases in the rates of cancers and birth abnormalities in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, ICBUW questioned the US government over whether it used depleted uranium weapons in the city. While left comparatively untouched during the early stages of the 2003 Iraq War, Fallujah subsequently saw some of the most intense fighting of the conflict, as US forces twice sought to subdue uprisings in the city.

US M1A1 fires its main gun in Fallujah assault
US M1A1 fires its main gun in Fallujah assault

The conduct of operations Vigilant Resolve (April 2004) and Phantom Fury (November and December 2004) drew considerable criticism from the international community, not least because of the use of white phosphorous in a direct fire role and the use of explosive force in a densely populated area. 

To seek clarity on whether depleted uranium munitions were used, ICBUW requested data on the use of the following rounds:

M919 25mm APFDS-T round
PGU-20/U 25mm API round
PGU-14/B 30mm round
M774 105mm APFSDS-T round
M833 105mm APFSDS-T round
M900 105mm APFSDS-T round
M829A1 120mm APFSDS-T round
M829A2 120mm APFSDS-T round
M829A3 120mm APFSDS-T round
Or any other round containing uranium.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was circulated to the three strands of the US military, taking more than a year to be answered. The Air Force responded first, denying using any depleted uranium munitions. The US Navy referred the request to US Central Command – CENTCOM – the unified combatant command unit representing all three forces in the ‘central region’ – the Middle East.

CENTCOM’s response claimed that depleted uranium munitions had not been used in operation Phantom Fury. However their response also pointed out that no records of depleted uranium use in the city were kept prior to July 2004. This means that, if uranium weapons had been used in operation Vigilant Resolve in April 2004, no records of their use would be available.

If true, ICBUW welcomes the claim that no uranium rounds were used in operation Phantom Fury. However, as the US has been less than transparent over its use of white phosphorous munitions in a direct fire role in the operations, we do not view the US claims as a cast iron guarantee that no uranium weapons were used following July 2004. More fundamentally, it is wholly unsatisfactory that no data is available prior to this date.

“International organisations and expert groups all agree that contamination from uranium weapons represents a potential risk to civilian populations and that remedial action and hazard awareness programmes should be put in place to reduce these risks,” said an ICBUW spokesperson.

"Not recording where the weapons have been used, and in what quantities, makes the application of these measures impossible and increases the likelihood of avoidable civilian exposure. This is completely unacceptable, particularly if it also applies to operations in the rest of Iraq in the first 17 months of the occupation. This lack of transparency and its implications for the post-conflict management of contamination, adds to the already compelling arguments in favour of a global ban on uranium in conventional weapons.” 

ICBUW calls for an urgent assessment of all risk factors in the environment in Fallujah, medical assistance and detailed and transparent health monitoring of its population. ICBUW also calls on the US to urgently release all available data on the locations of uranium weapon strikes in Iraq to help facilitate decontamination and risk awareness programmes.