In a State of Uncertainty: impact and implications of the use of depleted uranium in Iraq
The use of depleted uranium (DU) in conventional munitions has generated controversy for more than 30 years. Research increasingly supports the idea that there may be a link between its use and reports of increasing health problems in those countries where it has been deployed. Of these, Iraq is by far the most affected country, with large quantities of DU munitions used in 1991 and 2003. However, uncertainties over its impact and implications remain. This report is one of the first to attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of the use of DU in Iraq by US and UK armed forces, and the subsequent actions, or lack thereof, that have been undertaken to address the issue of DU contamination and resulting exposure to civilians. Furthermore, it will provide an overview of reported health problems that might be related to exposure to DU, and other toxic remnants of war, and will provide recommendations for next steps to be undertaken in order to minimise the risks to the civilian population.
The aim of this report is to provide greater clarity on the impact that the use of DU has had on Iraqi society; in doing so it will document the persistent uncertainty that continues to affect the daily lives of Iraqi civilians.
Summary of key findings
The lack of transparency from Coalition Forces over the use of DU: There is an absence of crucial information on firing coordinates, the quantities and types of DU munitions used; data gaps relating to the efforts undertaken to clean up contaminated sites and material are hindering efforts to assess risks and implement remediation work.
The use of DU in populated areas: aircraft and vehicles have used DU in populated areas against armoured and non-armoured targets. States that use DU defend its use on the basis of it being specifically for engaging armoured vehicles; evidence from Iraq suggests that it has been used against a far wider range of targets, and in populated areas. This is highly problematic because of the indiscriminate nature of DU dust.
The difficulty in assessing and managing DU contamination: effectively and safely managing sites or wreckage contaminated by DU requires the involvement and cooperation of a range of expertises, as demonstrated by the UN’s approach, which has required the input of the UN Environment Programme, International Atomic Energy Agency and World Health Organisation. The Iraqi government, which is slowly recovering from decades of war, has faced major challenges in terms of capacity, expertise and funding in seeking to identify contaminated hotspots and implement programmes to analyse, clean-up and safely store contaminated scrap metal and debris.
More than 300 contaminated sites are still in the process of being assessed and decontaminated, placing a huge financial burden on the Iraqi government.
Impact on civilian health and environment: numerous media reports and published research indicates that there is a serious increase in congenital birth deformations, with exposure to toxic remnants of war a potential risk factor. In addition to the direct physical health legacy from exposure to military-origin toxics, concern over possible exposure to DU residues is widespread and may be impacting on the psychological wellbeing of communities. This anxiety is being stoked by media reports but appears to be intrinsic to the use of radioactive materials in conventional weapons. The lack of transparency over targeting sites, distrust of the authorities, politicisation of the DU issue and the ongoing failure to comprehensively manage contamination have only served to exacerbate the situation.
As noted above, detailed and reliable data on the quantities and types of DU munitions used in Iraq, and their geographical distribution is still unavailable. Furthermore huge gaps remain over the assessment and remediation histories of sites, this is particularly true of the period from 2003-2005, under the governance of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Therefore it is difficult to judge the effectiveness of the mitigation measures that may, or may not, have been undertaken by Coalition Forces and later, by the Iraqi authorities to protect civilians from exposure to DU.
This report aims to provide an overview of all the credible reports that have been published so far on DU use in Iraq both from the media and research institutions. In researching the report, the author conducted three field trips to Iraq and spoke with representatives from Iraqi ministries, NGOs, doctors, experts and civilians living in contaminated areas this input will be used to not only illustrate the current state of affairs, but also to suggest policies and precautionary measures that need to be implemented to protect civilians and the environment. This report will also consider other environmental problems resulting from both wars and take into account these issues when drawing up a final conclusion and recommendations.
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- 1690 Kb - Format pdfIKV Pax ChristiIn a State of Uncertainty seeks to document the extent of Iraq's DU problem 10 years after its second use there during the 2003 invasion.