Proof of the use of WMDs in Iraq?

Duncan Hannavy

There can be little doubt that given the cost of the war in Iraq, the failure to find any evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction has proven to be something of a political embarrassment to all involved. The death toll for Coalition forces is getting dangerously close to the 5,000 mark, which although horrendous, pales into insignificance when compared to the Lancet’s estimates of somewhere in the region of 600,000 Iraqi deaths (both civilian and military) as a result of the conflict. Couple this with recent estimates published in the Washington Post suggesting the final cost of the war could be upwards of $3 trillion, and the picture looks pretty grim. But at last, we have the possibility of evidence that enriched uranium weapons were indeed used on Iraqi soil. With just one slight hitch – they were used by Coalition troops.

Two studies carried out by Professor Christopher Busby, of Ulster University’s School of Biomedical Sciences, have pointed to a sharp rise in congenital birth defects, “extraordinarily high levels of cancer”, and even a shift in the gender balance of babies born to the civilian population of Fallujah, in the aftermath of the major offensive which began in late 2004. This is not the first time that such accusations have been made, with many scientists and commentators suggesting that the use of depleted uranium ammunition may well be linked to higher rates of cancer and birth defects. What is different here is Professor Busby’s research suggests that rather than depleted uranium munitions, Coalition troops appear to have been using enriched uranium weapons. These are far more radioactive, and far more damaging to the civilian population, due to the long term contamination of their environment.

There has been much controversy surrounding the use of depleted uranium ammunition and armour, going back as far as the first Gulf War. One of the contributing factors to what has been termed ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ has been attributed to the ingestion of radioactive particles originating from either American shells, or the damaged armour of American tanks. Indeed, Professor Busby points to the high levels of birth defects in the offspring of Gulf War veterans. Despite this, and the pressure put on the US by numerous organisations to put a stop to the use of such weapons, America has refused to withdraw the ammunition.

In 2003, the BBC reported that American forces would continue to use both depleted uranium ammunition and tank armour, quoting Colonel James Naughton of US Army Materiel Command who claimed that any move to ban such weapons was merely an attempt to slow the US military machine. Dismissing the suggestion that there may be long term environmental and health concerns, Col. Naughton went on to claim that Iraqi complaints over the use of such munitions were merely rooted in their fear of American tanks, and the fact that “we kicked the crap out of them, OK?” – surely the words of a true humanitarian.

Professor Busby claims that it may be precisely this level of criticism that has led to the use of enriched uranium weapons. Given the controversy surrounding depleted uranium, the use of which can be tested for using sophisticated instruments, he suggests that this highly secretive enriched uranium weaponry may have been used instead, allowing Coalition forces to cover their tracks. As enriched uranium is not currently something that the numerous NGOs involved in the process of battlefield clean-up test for, the governments involved can, in all honesty, deny having used depleted uranium shells, all the while hoping that the truth of the new variant weapon will not be discovered.

When uranium is mined, it is then refined to separate the specific isotope (U-235) which is used in nuclear power stations and atom bombs. The bi-product of this is depleted uranium, which has been used in recent years to produce armour piercing shells, due to its unusual property of sharpening upon impact with its target. During his study, Professor Busby discovered evidence of enriched uranium in the hair of the mothers and fathers of 25 children who were suffering from congenital anomalies. His study went on to find worrying levels of enriched uranium both in the soil and the water surrounding Fallujah, suggesting the potential for long term contamination of the environment. Such indiscriminate effects on the civilian population make the use of such a weapon highly illegal.

Professor Busby will now assist in a case to be heard at the High Court in London, over the use of uranium based weapons. Previous to these two most recent reports, Professor Busby and his team have also found evidence of the use of depleted uranium shells by Israeli forces in Lebanon, shells most likely sold to the Israeli government by the United States. These recent claims come only days after further accusations that NATO forces have used depleted uranium weapons in Libya. No date has yet been announced for the court hearing.

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