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Growing concern over humanitarian situation in Fallujah

The fifth anniversary of the second attack on Fallujah by US forces has seen an upsurge in interest in the lingering humanitarian problems resulting from the conflict. Both the US and UNEP have roles to play in clarifying exactly what happened and ICBUW calls on them to accept this responsibility.
19 November 2009 - ICBUW

ICBUW is deeply concerned by press reports of a steep rise in birth defects in Fallujah, Iraq, following the two attacks by US forces in 2004. Such stories are sadly familiar to anyone who has followed the history of Iraq after the wars in 1991 and 2003, and it has long been thought that the use of uranium weapons – so-called ‘depleted uranium’ – in both conflicts has played a role in the rise in deformities among newborns.

ICBUW calls for the US to immediately clarify what role uranium weapons played in the two attacks on Fallujah; to provide details of areas where these weapons were used in both Iraq wars to civil society and to the Iraqi authorities; to provide funding for independent scientific research to establish the cause of these effects, and for medical and technical assistance to the victims.

Given the extent and seriousness of the reports from medical professionals in Fallujah, ICBUW also urges the UN Environment Programme to undertake sampling in the city as a matter of urgency.

Investigative focus
ICBUW is investigating the possible use of uranium weapons during the attacks on Fallujah. Currently it seems that Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles were deployed during both battles. Both vehicles carry armour piercing rounds containing uranium and high explosive rounds which do not. However the fact that they were not facing armoured targets does not mean that only high explosive rounds were used. In fact, there are indications that armour piercing ammunition may be more effective against individuals fighting behind cover in urban areas. While is not known how widespread the use of uranium weapons was during the fighting, it seems likely that it was used to some extent.

At present we lack information about which air forces were used by the US, particularly during the second battle, in November and December 2004. As a result it is not possible to confirm whether A-10 Thunderbolt planes, which fire a mix of uranium and high explosive rounds, were also used. We will continue to investigate this question, and to what extent ground forces relied on uranium munitions, rather than high explosive rounds, and seek links with other NGOs and witness statements to clarify these issues.

fallujah air strike As with other health problems with a potential link to the use of uranium weapons, it is difficult at this stage to differentiate the effects of these chemically toxic and radioactive weapons from the other pollutants to which populations are subjected during wartime. ICBUW continues to maintain that in the case of scientific uncertainty, a precautionary approach should prevail, and the use of these weapons should immediately cease. The same principle clearly applies to other weapons, such as White Phosphorus, which was also deployed by the US during the attacks on Fallujah.

The willingness of the US forces to deploy these weapons, disregarding the legacy of suffering that would result, is only one example among many. The use of heavy artillery, armoured vehicles, and aircraft in heavily built up areas, and the exclusion of independent journalists suggest that the attacks on Fallujah were undertaken with negligent disregard for the lives of civilians, and quite possibly in breach of international law.