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Laid to Waste: depleted uranium contaminated military scrap in Iraq

Laid to Waste follows on from In a State of Uncertainty and adds more information on the failure to manage Iraq's DU contamination adequately. For the first time the report reveals US strike coordinates, finding that DU was used against unmounted troops and soft targets, in breach of US legal guidelines. The report also considers international standards for radioactive waste management and how these standards were not applied to DU contamination in Iraq.
20 June 2014 - ICBUW

The lack of a clear strategy to deal with the legacy of the use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions in Iraq, from either the Coalition Forces, the Coalition Provisional Authority or the Iraqi government, has resulted in the continued exposure of civilians to DU.

Cover of Laid to Waste report  Conservative estimates suggest that more than 440,000kg of DU was fired in both Gulf Wars in 1991 and 2003 by the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) armed forces. DU use has been documented against tanks, armoured vehicles, unmounted troops and buildings in populated areas. Long after each conflict, military remnants destroyed with DU could be found in towns, cities and rural areas. While some material was collected and stored on scrap metal sites, these were often accessible to local communities and were viewed as a resource for the unregulated trade in scrap metal.

Little information was provided to Iraqi civilians or local authorities on the potential hazards associated with exposure to contaminated wreckage. This report will examine international standards for how these contaminated military remnants should have been dealt with; the type of work Coalition Forces and the Iraqi government undertook to reduce DU exposure risks and will document the concerns of Iraqi civilians, government officials and humanitarian demining organisations over the legacy of DU in Iraq.

The aim of this report is to demonstrate the difficulty of preventing civilian exposure to DU in States recovering from armed conflict, with a focus on contaminated military scrap metal. These difficulties are compounded where DU users are reluctant to disclose information on where the munitions are used. The report explores the limited efforts by the Iraqi government to effectively tackle the issue, and the resulting impact on civilians.

Summary of key findings

1.   Poor post-conflict management of DU contaminated scrap metal: Coalition Forces were reluctant to extend their clean-up operations beyond their own bases, or to share information on DU with the Iraqi government. Together with the Iraqi government’s limited technical capacity and low prioritisation of the problem, this has led to the ineffective management of DU contaminated scrap. 

These factors have significantly increased the likelihood of civilian exposure to DU; they have led to contaminated scrap being exported to neighbouring countries; the improper management and monitoring of scrap metal collection sites; and to DU destroyed tanks and other military wreckage being left in city centres, towns and villages, with local people stripping them for valuable parts and children using them as playgrounds.

2.   International regulations for dealing with radioactive waste were not applied to DU: International regulations that provide guidelines on how DU, which can be labelled as Low, or Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste, should be dealt with, were not applied in Iraq. Safe storage, monitoring and disposal mechanisms should have been implemented, yet failed to be part of the work undertaken by either the Coalition Provisional Authority or the Iraqi government.

3.   Long-term strategy for clean-up and remediation: In spite of repeated assessments by UN agencies and calls for support, no long-term strategy was devised to address the identification and removal of contaminated scrap or the monitoring of scrap metal sites and other affected areas. DU has been raised in numerous Iraqi government and UN reports as a concern that should be dealt with, yet a lack of sufficient funding, combined with political ambiguity around the issue, has hampered the necessary clean-up.

4.   Civilian concerns over DU are mounting: Civilians living near contaminated sites, workers on scrap metal sites, Iraqi doctors and researchers have repeatedly voiced their concerns over the potential effects of DU on health and the environment. Clearly, the knowledge that there might be toxic and radioactive substances present in the soil you live on, the air you breathe and the water you drink, affects the wellbeing of communities. Though a lack of data on the current extent of contamination makes it difficult to make clear statements over the risks involved, these concerns are there, and must be addressed.


  • Laid to Waste

    4001 Kb - Format pdf
    A report on the mis-management of the legacy of depleted uranium weapons in Iraq and the failure to follow appropriate radiation safety standards,