Impact of "Depleted" Uranium on Iraqi Civilians
by Sheree Craigue

A humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions is unfolding in Iraq. The firing of "depleted" uranium (DU) weapons releases airborne particles that are easily inhaled.

DU, a toxic heavy metal, moves gradually into bones, organs and cells. DU in the body emits radioactive particles and rays, attacking ovaries, sperm, lungs, lymph nodes, kidneys, breasts, blood, bones, brain, stomach and fetuses.
A US soldier stands guard near a burning Bradley Vehicle in Iraq, 2004. Depleted uranium is used to armor these vehicles, making them very dangerous when they burn. Photo: AP

During Gulf War I, the US military used 300 tons of DU weapons in southern Iraq. During the three weeks of the April 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US military used an estimated 1000 to 3000 tons of DU, mainly against heavily populated cities.

With a half-life of 4.5 billion years, DU inhalation - especially in windy, arid Iraq - is likely to continue a very long time.

Two to four years after Gulf War I, Iraqi birth defects, cancers and leukemia began rising at alarming rates. Now reports and research are coming out on the accelerating rate of cancers and birth defects since the invasion (Gulf War II).

Despite threats, the Iraqi medical community refuses to be silent.

Dr. Jawad Al Ali, cancer specialist says: "Children in particular are susceptible to DU poisoning. They have a much higher absorption rate as their blood is being used to build and nourish their bones and they have a lot of soft tissues. Bone cancer and leukemia used to be diseases affecting them the most; however, cancer of the lymphoma - which can develop anywhere on the body, and has rarely be seen before the age of 12 - is now also common…."

Some NGOs working with Iraqis now to help meet medical needs:
Japan-Iraq Medical Network: www.jim-net;
Iraq Hope Network: :

In January 2002, Dr. Alim Abdul-Hamid pointed to a strong causal link between DU exposure and cancers in Iraq: "Leukemia is known to be related to radiation. We don't have evidence that leukemia is related to chemicals….With radiation the strength of association increases as time passes. The fact that cancer rates are still increasing at an exponential rate in Iraq strongly implies a radioactive source."

According to the Uranium Medical Research Centre (UMRC, Sept./Oct. 2003), the purity and quantity of the DU found in the battlefield soil samples were some of the highest levels observed since independent investigations began after 1991. The amounts of uranium in water samples were extremely high as well. UMRC's biological samples showed that some civilians were still excreting DU in urine five months after the end of major hostilities. SMRC's field team became contaminated by DU inhalation during their field survey activities.

In November 2004, Dr. Janan Hassan of the Basra Maternity and Children's Hospital reported that, "…as many as 56% of all cancer patients in Iraq are now children under five, compared with just 13% 15 years earlier."

he following are from April 2005:

Doctors in Baghdad have reported newborn babies characterized by multiple fingers, unusually large heads, unilateral lips or no arms or legs.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society hospital registers at least four cases of deformities every week. Most of the deformed babies don't survive for more than a week.

Dr. Nawar Ali, a medical researcher into birth deformities at Baghdad University: "There have been 650 cases [of birth deformities] in total since August 2003 reported in government hospitals. That is a 20% increase from the previous regime. The number of children under 15 falling ill with cancer in Iraq has now reached 22.4 per 100,000."

Dr. Mahmud al-'Amiri, Director of Oncology in al-Yarmuk Hospital in Baghdad: "Since the start of the US occupation and until today, there have been 140,000 cases of cancer of the skin, a large percentage of those in children between the ages of nine months and ten years."

Are Iraqi civilians protected from contamination sites, as required by US military regulations? According to Geert VanMoorter MD of Medical Aid for the Third World, "[In 2003 and in March 2004] we could personally see that there were no fences nor warning signs around or near the destroyed Iraqi tanks and APCs [armored personnel carriers]. Children were playing nearby. Most of this Iraqi army material has been destroyed by ammunition with DU. The areas where these tanks and other materials were hit have not been decontaminated since. The earth around has not been removed.

In the area of the Baghdad Gate, we saw people cultivating vegetables, unaware of the danger, on fields where in April 2003 many destroyed Iraqi tanks stood. There were no protective measures to be seen. Along the road between Baghdad and Basra still a lot of destroyed tanks can be found."

DU weapons are banned and illegal under international law, even though the US has not signed and ratified a treaty banning them. The UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights reiterated that DU weaponry is "incompatible" with existing humanitarian and human rights law (Sub-Commission resolution 1997/36).

The 1949 Geneva Conventions, Article 146, state that all signatory states may bring violators to their own tribunals, regardless of nationality. Article 148 prohibits any State from absolving itself or any other State from liability for serious violations.

As the occupying country, the US is legally responsible for the health care needs of the Iraqis. International law requires the US to compensate victims of illegal weaponry, disclose all facts about the weapons, their development and deployment, and to clean up the contamination. When effective cleanup is impossible, the state causing the damage must pay for the loss of contaminated lands and waters.

Sheree is co-founder of the Depleted Uranium Network (Hudson-Mohawk region). For sources for this article, reach her at (518) 286-0359 or via