by Steven Harkins
Conspiracy theories exist in ‘the realm of myth’, where ‘imaginations run wild, fears trump facts, and evidence is ignored’ [i]. This is according to a website created by the US State Department to debunk a range of outlandish conspiracy theories.
Among the theories criticized on the website are conspiracies regarding the assassination of JFK, the moon landings, and the September 11th attacks [ii]. Alongside these well-known sources of wild speculation is the subject of depleted uranium (DU). The website states:
Uranium evokes very powerful fears. It is associated with atomic weapons, mass annihilation, radiation sickness, cancer and birth defects. Depleted uranium evokes these same fears, despite the fact that it has been depleted of much of its radioactivity. Fear-based associations can be more powerful than logic and facts. Compare how you feel about tungsten to how you feel about depleted uranium. Both are heavy metals, but “depleted uranium” might sound scarier to you [iii].
So the US State Department argue that when it comes to conspiracy theories ‘evidence is ignored’ and that it is ‘fear-based associations’ and not ‘logic and facts’ that have caused people to make a connection between birth defects, cancer and depleted uranium.
Cancer and Birth Defects in Iraq
The city of Fallujah has seen a large increase in birth defects since operations by US forces in March and the joint operation ‘Phantom Fury’ between US and British forces in March and November 2004. Last month the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a study entitled Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005–2009 [iv].Chris Busby one of the authors of the report argued that ‘to produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened’ [v]. The report concluded that infant mortality was found to be 80 per 1,000 births compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait. People in Fallujah are suffering from cancer “similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium in the fallout” [vi].
The tragic fate of the residents of Fallujah is worsened by the fact that post-battlefield cancers and birth defects are not a new phenomenon. Following the first gulf war John Pilger asked a doctor in a Basra Hospital about the theory that Depleted Uranium was the cause of so much ill health in Iraq. The doctor argued:
How much proof do they want? There is every relation between congenital malformation and depleted uranium. Before 1991, we saw nothing like this at all. If there is no connection, why have these things not happened before? Most of these children have no family history of cancer. I have studied what happened in Hiroshima. It is almost exactly the same here; we have an increased percentage of congenital malformation, an increase of malignancy, leukemia, brain tumours: the same [vii].
Sanctions following the first gulf war denied Iraq the chance to decontaminate the battlefields from carcinogenic weapons. Hospital equipment needed to treat cancer was also denied to Iraq under the sanctions because the equipment needed contained traces of radio-isotopes. These traces constituted nuclear materials according to the sanctions committee.
As early as 1991 there were concerns about the use of depleted uranium. A memo from a Lt. Colonel Larson to a Major Ziehman in March 1991 read:
There has been and continues to be a concern regarding the impact of DU on the environment. Therefore, if no one makes a case for the effectiveness of DU on the battlefield, DU rounds may become politically unacceptable and thus, be deleted from the arsenal.’ Thus, ‘we should assure their future existence’ otherwise may stand to lose them. He continues, ‘I believe we should keep this sensitive issue in mind, when, after action, reports are written. [viii]
Robert Fisk describes trying to publicise the link between depleted uranium and cancer in 1998. He argues that ‘the British government went to great lengths to try and discredit what I wrote’[ix]. Fisk sums up the British governments position as being ‘the health risks of DU ammunition are acceptable until we – the West – invent something more lethal to take its place. [x]’
The birth defects found in Iraqi hospitals during the first gulf war are described by Dr. Haifa Ahashine:
If it is not a child without a brain, then maybe it’s one with a giant head, stumpy arms like those of a thalidomide victim, two fingers instead of five, a heart with missing valves, missing ears. The deformities have one thing in common, they are congenital [xi].
The West clearly haven’t found a suitable replacement as the weapons are still in use in Iraq. On a visit to Fallujah in March this year, the BBC’s John Simpson visited hospital wards with many children suffering from birth defects. He was shown a picture of a child with three heads and he describes how:
‘Outside, a man who had heard we were there had brought his four-year-old daughter to show us. She had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot’ [xiii].
Further evidence of a link between DU munitions and cancer comes from the Balkan war in 1999. Following the 1999 NATO bombing of Kosovo, Italian troops were ordered to control an area of the country where 14,000 DU shells had fallen. By 2001 six of them had died of leukemia [xiv]. Several peacekeepers returning from the Balkans following the war also died of cancer [xv].
Although there is not definitive proof that DU munitions are to blame for these health problems it seems that far from being a conspiracy theory as suggested by the US State Department; the real WMDs in Iraq are the depleted uranium shells; their legacy will be felt in Iraq for generations.
[i] US State Department, 2005, Conspiracy Theories and Misinformation, URL: http://www.america.gov/conspiracy_theories.html?gclid=CMCko66n4KECFRMsbwodJ21xKg, Accessed 10-July-2010
[ii] US State Department, 2005, Conspiracy Theories and Misinformation, URL: http://www.america.gov/conspiracy_theories.html?gclid=CMCko66n4KECFRMsbwodJ21xKg, Accessed 10-July-2010
[iii] US State Department, 2005, Depleted Uranium, URL: http://www.america.gov/st/pubs-english/2005/January/20050114155832atlahtnevel0.8462488.html#ixzz0tKZ707oO, 15-January-2005, Accessed 10-July-2010
[iv] Chris Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, 2010, Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005–2009, URL: http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/7/7/2828/pdf, August 2010
[v] Chris Busby, Toxic legacy of US assault on Fallujah ‘worse than Hiroshima’, URL: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/toxic-legacy-of-us-assault-on-fallujah-worse-than-hiroshima-2034065.html, The Independent, 24-July-2010
[vi] Chris Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, 2010, Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005–2009, URL: http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/7/7/2828/pdf, August 2010
[vii] John Pilger, 1999, Paying the Price, URL: www.coldtype.net/Assets/pdfs/Pilger.iraq.pdf, Coldtype Magazine p. 6.
[viii] Felicity Arbuthnot, 2007, Depleted uranium – an untold story, URL: http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/other_comments/269012/depleted_uranium_an_untold_story.html, The Ecologist, 1-February-2007
[ix] Robert Fisk, 2005, The great war for civilisation, p. 904, Harper Collins: London
[x] Robert Fisk, 2005, The great war for civilisation, p. 906, Harper Collins: London.
[xi] Maggie O’Kane, One million rounds of bullets tipped with uranium were fired during the Gulf war. They slice through tanks. And this is what they do to humans, The Guardian, 21-December-1998
[xii] Extreme Birth Defects, Documentary evidence from Iraq, URL: http://www.xs4all.nl/~stgvisie/VISIE/extremedeformities.html
[xiii] John Simpson, 2010, Disturbing story of Falluja’s birth defects, URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8548961.stm, BBC News, 4-March-2010
[xiv] Richard Norton-Taylor, 2001, Italy blames deaths on US army shells, The Guardian, 4-January-2001
[xv] Peter Beaumont, 2001, British safety claims wilt as uranium panic grips NATO: A dozen peacekeepers have died and scores more claim to be made ill by debris from US ammunition in the Balkans, The Observer, 7-January-2001