Uranium ends up with scrap metal dealer
Belgium’s Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) has provided further details about the after low radioactive waste from two Boeing 747s ended up with a scrap metal dealer. The FANC says that the depleted uranium is still intact and as a result as yet there has not been any impact on the environment.
The depleted uranium came from two Boeings at Ostend Airport. Some of the uranium was retrieved from a container at the airport. The rest was sent to a scrap metal dealer, but because he failed to notify the FANC it started an investigation.
Kortrijk prosecutors that are responsible for environmental crimes in West Flanders Province are now awaiting the completion of the FANC’s investigation before deciding on any court action. An official from the Kortrijk prosecutor’s office told the Belgian press agency Belga: “When that investigation is complete, we will see which legislation governing waste management and ionising radiation has been violated. If criminal acts have been committed, we will prosecute.”
Depleted uranium is used as ballast in the tail of aircraft to provide a counterweight. An aircraft usually contains some 850 kilos of low radioactive waste.
Cover-up of effects of depleted uranium weapons on West’s soldiers and Iraqi citizens
West covering up depleted uranium use in wars: Webre 6 Dec 13 Press TV has conducted an interview with Alfred Lambremont Webre, an international lawyer in Vancouver, concerning the rising number of suicide rates among Canadian war veterans.
The following is an approximate transcription of the interview.
Press TV: Mr. Webre, first of all, who would you blame for this rising trend that we are seeing among these war veterans? Is it because the situation is not being treated when they come back home? Can this issue even be pursued through legal channels?
Webre: Yes, the cause of this was very squarely pointed out in the final opinion of the Tokyo International Tribunal for war crimes in Afghanistan. In their final opinion, they stated that the US forces used depleted uranium weapons in Afghanistan in the manner that Zyklon B gas was used across Europe as a weapon of mass murder in Afghanistan calculated to destroy all the living species exposed.
And so what has been found is that exposure to the ionizing radiation in depleted uranium weapons has been felt both by the targeted victims of Afghanistan but also by the Canadian, by the US and by the UK troops who have had to handle the depleted uranium weapons and who have been in the proximity of the ionizing radiation there.
And it is now known that the [Persian] Gulf War syndrome was caused by large-scale use of depleted uranium weapons against Iraq in 1991 so that 70 percent of [Persian] Gulf War veterans have now had children born after the [Persian] Gulf War with mutations, deformities, genetic [dis]orders and suffer from the same syndromes that go on to produce suicides.
And so there are more that one million US veterans that are on total disability now because of exposure to depleted uranium so that all of the suicides in the Canadian armed forces from Afghanistan are from exposure to ionizing radiation of depleted uranium weapons to which they were not trained and the controllers of the allied armed forces used these depleted uranium weapons knowingly in the words of the International Tokyo Tribunal to cause crimes against humanity, genocide and omnicide.And omnicide is a word, the killing of all living things, the genome of all living things including humans, animals and plants and now this is coming home with the suicides of the Canadian forces and the suicides in the American and the British forces and all of the deformed babies and offspring in these soldiers but the greatest tragedy is in Iraq and Afghanistan itself.
Press TV: With what you are saying and the evidence to support it, do you think this issue can be raised in international courts? Or do you think the US could be standing accountable for the use of depleted uranium and the effects that it is having or is going to have?
Webre: Both Iraq and Afghanistan, in my judgment, should immediately go at the international level and break open the courts of justice at the International Criminal Court and other venues and we know those successful legal venues in international organizations to secure damages for what has been called a silent genocide.
This is a complete cover-up by the US, the UK and Canadian forces and also because Canadian uranium has been exported illegally against the Canadian nuclear commission regulations in which no Canadian uranium may be used in weapons and all depleted uranium in US and UK depleted uranium weapons is Canadian uranium and Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, has knowingly allowed this to go forward.
No Link Found Between Illness And Depleted Uranium
Legion Magazine | November 29, 2013 by Sharon Adams
There is no strong research linking exposure to depleted uranium to health problems of veterans, yet those problems are real and deserve further research, concludes a report from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Several veterans who believe their health conditions are linked to exposure to depleted uranium took their protests public, sparking former Veterans Affairs minister Steven Blaney to commission a scientific advisory committee to study the issue. That report, delivered in January, concluded depleted uranium is potentially harmful, but “it is not associated with a large or frequent health effect.”
Although incomplete military records make it impossible to tell where and when individuals were deployed, and there is no way currently to accurately measure soldiers’ exposure, the advisory committee concluded it is unlikely Canadian soldiers have been exposed to harmful levels of depleted uranium (DU).
That left veterans hanging. To qualify for benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), veterans must provide a diagnosis and proof of a link between military service and their illness or injury.
Depleted uranium is used as tank armour and tank-piercing ammunition. It becomes hazardous when it burns, creating dust that can be breathed in by troops exposed to burning vehicles, salvaging damaged vehicles or in clean-up operations.
The Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA) conducted its own study, examining peer-reviewed and less rigorous scientific studies and hearing evidence from expert witnesses and veterans. Opposing positions emerged. Expert witnesses agreed with the scientific advisory committee’s conclusions, while veterans were critical, citing omissions and questioning the advisory committee’s impartiality.
Retired naval lieutenant Louise Richard served as a nurse in the Gulf War in 1991, where depleted uranium ammunition was used, and personnel were also exposed to various inoculations, medications to protect against nerve gas exposure, pesticides, toxic smoke from burning oil wells as well as patients with communicable diseases.
Sick personnel left the services “undiagnosed, misdiagnosed…untreated,” she said. “Our symptoms, illnesses and concerns have been minimized, belittled, ignored.” Medical documentation to support benefit claims is often missing. Record keeping in a war zone is not always easy.
ACVA, made up of a dozen members of Parliament and chaired by Nova Scotian Greg Kerr, concluded that at present there is no clear scientific evidence linking exposure to depleted uranium to adverse health effects. However, the report, titled Depleted Uranium and Canadian Veterans, acknowledges that still leaves sick veterans waiting for answers. These veterans “would benefit more from research conducted…away from depleted uranium.” It recommends the federal government support research focusing on treatment of illnesses that have complex or poorly understood causes, but that can “in all likelihood” be attributed to military services.
The report recommends VAC seek scientific advice on links between military service and veterans’ health problems from independent organizations such as the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research. It also notes VAC needs to clarify its process for using scientific evidence to establish or disprove a connection between military service and medical conditions.
“Public policy needs to be supported by credible research,” said Andrea Siew, director of The Royal Canadian Legion’s Dominion Command Service Bureau in Ottawa. However, she added, “the government has been slow to accept credible research,” citing the Institute of Medicine’s research on ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.)
“It is time research moved on to finding links between military service and such health problems as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, dementia and cancers,” she said.
ACVA recommends VAC consider introducing a “flexible mechanism” to assess links between military service and medical conditions with complex causes that are difficult to identify or poorly understood. “Veterans who might have suspected that their health problems were related to depleted uranium exposure still cannot find a satisfactory explanation for the cause of their health problems,” the report says.
Confrontations over access to benefits “do no justice to the sacrifice made by veterans or to Canadians’ desire to treat veterans with the respect they deserve,” the report goes on. “Every effort should be made to ensure that challenging a decision concerning access to medical services or financial benefits does not become an ordeal for veterans and their family members.”
A government reply to the report is expected this fall.
NATO’s depleted uranium kills Serbian war veterans
Independent Balkan News Agency | Milos Mitrovic | 04/05/2013
More than one hundred Serbian war veterans from Municipality of Leskovac, southern Serbia, have passed away in the last three months only. They were mobilized in the wars of the former Yugoslavia that occurred from 1990 to 1999. However, most of them were soldiers engaged in Kosovo war in 1999, aged from 37 to 50, and 95 percent died from cancer, the leader of the war veteran organization Dusan Nikolic revealed.
The representatives of this organization believe that deaths are caused by the impact of depleted uranium which NATO used during its intervention against Serbia in 1999. Another reason was post war stress that they had been exposed to, Belgrade`s daily “Vecernje novosti” reported.
“Every day our organization loses at least one of its members. In most of the cases, cause of death was cancer of colon, cancer of esophagus or lung cancer. The second most frequent cause of death was stroke, but compared to malign diseases, its percentage was significantly lower, Dusan Nikolic explained.
The statistics of the organization of War veterans is based on the information collected from the deceased veterans’ family members who contacted them in effort to obtain the right of war wages.
Sasa Grgov, the chief internist of Leskovac General Hospital, said that local physicians did not practice a kind of statistic mentioned by the organization of War veterans. “We did not collect the information whether our patients had been exposed to the impact of depleted uranium and whether they had been engaged in war”. However, Grgov said that exposing to radiation was a “very possible” cause of death of many veterans, given that the number of patients with malignant tumors was growing.
Grgov also stressed that “it would be terrifying if current growing national trend of colon cancer remains”. “Up to this moment about 30 patients with bloody stool and without the other cancer symptoms are treated. Cancer was found at five patients”, Grgov revealed.
The war veterans from Leskovac recalled the research conducted by medical “Batut” Institute which showed that NATO aircraft and artillery targeted Serbia with ammunition that included 15 tons of depleted uranium. According to the research, 40.000 people died because they had been exposed to the depleted uranium. Nikolic suggested that this number would be tripled in the end of the decade.
Contamination event at Oak Ridge Depleted Uranium Recycling Facility
Enformable Nuclear News | 19 December 2012
Tennessee is the only state that allows commercial burning of radioactive waste, licensing six incinerators, and receives 75 percent of the nation’s low-level radioactive waste, which according to state records is roughly 20,500 tons per year.
On Friday, December 7th, workers at the Energy Solutions Bear Creek Depleted Uranium Recycling Facility in Oak Ridge Tennessee, workers placed a drum of Depleted Uranium shavings in Area 9 of the old ATG building, covered with mineral oil. When workers arrived at the facility Monday morning they discovered the poly drum had completely disappeared, the Depleted Uranium shavings were on the floor, the oil was on the floor, and some of the shavings had changed in physical appearance, now seemingly looking like ash.
According to information released by EnergySolutions, the poly drum had burned up and the contents of the drum were now mixed with the ash and oil on the concrete floor.
Depleted uranium is the man-made byproduct of the uranium enrichment process, “depleted” simply means the Uranium-235 has been reduced, and unlike other radioactive material, its chemical composition changes over time, making it more in radioactive.
The Oak Ridge plant incinerates 15,000 tons of radioactive waste per year, most of which comes from the United States, but in 2011, the East Tennessee facility applied to import and treat 1,000 tons of German radioactive waste, and ship it back to Germany to be stored as ash.
Modern radioactive waste disposal costs have escalated much greater than inflation, largely due to increasing environmental regulations, disposal site uncertainty, and risk potential.
In July 2009, Energy Solutions was awarded a $9.3 million order for dismantlement and decommissioning of the S3G/S6G nuclear submarine refueling complex at Pearl Harbor. In Phase 1 alone, over 20 million pounds of waste was shipped to the Bear Creek facility.
The Bear Creek facility also manages classified nuclear waste, which is specially processed with special melting technology and capabilities to obscure any classified information or classified DOD components prior to disposal poly drum.
Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Source: WGBH News
Source: Energy Solutions Annual Report
Baghdad, 06 Safar 1434/ 20 December 2012 (IINA) – American ammunition may be the reason behind the mounting number of babies born with birth defects in Iraq, a study revealed.
Accounts of children being born with cancer and birth defects have been highlighted in German newspaper Der Spiegel, where Iraqis who were interviewed were not sure of the explanation behind so many dead and deformed newborn babies in Basra, according to Al Arabia. “Some had only one eye in the forehead. Or two heads,” Askar Bin Said, an Iraqi graveyard owner, told the newspaper, describing some of the dead newborn babies that are buried in his cemetery. “One had a tail like a skinned lamb. Another one looked like a perfectly normal child, but with a monkey’s face. Legs of one girl had grown together, half fish, half human,” he added.
The report cites a study published in September in the Germany-based Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology saying there was a “sevenfold increase in the number of birth defects in Basra between 1994 and 2003. Of 1,000 live births, 23 had birth defects.” “War pollution — due to everything from heavy metals from exploded ordnance to radiation left behind by depleted uranium used on US ammunition and tanks — inhaled by Fallujah’s residents, seeped into the ground water, flowing in the nearby Tigris River, choking the air they breathe,” a report from Global Research said on Tuesday.
U.S. depleted uranium casts horrific shadow on Iraq’s newborns
Accounts of Iraqi children being born with cancer and birth defects have been highlighted in a new report. (Reuters)
American ammunitions may be the reason behind the mounting number of babies born with birth defects in Iraq, a study revealed on Tuesday.
Accounts of children being born with cancer and birth defects have been highlighted in German newspaper Der Spiegel, where Iraqis who were interviewed were not sure of the explanation behind so many dead and deformed newborn babies in the Iraqi city of Basra.
“Some had only one eye in the forehead. Or two heads,” Askar Bin Said, an Iraqi graveyard owner, told the newspaper, describing some of the dead newborn babies that are buried in his cemetery.
“One had a tail like a skinned lamb. Another one looked like a perfectly normal child, but with a monkey’s face. Or the girl whose legs had grown together, half fish, half human,” he added.
The report cites a study published in September in the Germany-based Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology saying there was a “sevenfold increase in the number of birth defects in Basra between 1994 and 2003. Of 1,000 live births, 23 had birth defects,” adding that similar high numbers were reported from the city of Fallujah.
“War pollution — due to everything from heavy metals from exploded ordnance to radiation left behind by depleted uranium used on U.S ammunition and tanks — inhaled by Fallujah’s residents, seeped into the ground water, flowing in the nearby Tigris River, choking the air they breathe,” a report from Global Research said on Tuesday.
Such illnesses found in children include of hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”) cases, spinal cord abnormality and a high concentration of lead in the milk teeth found in sick children.
The Der Spiegel report drew ties between the use of uranium ammunition on the country during years of fighting, adding that Iraq-based cancer specialist Jawad al-Ali noticed a spike in “double and triple cancers.”
“There is a connection between cancer and radiation. Sometimes it takes 10 or 20 years before the consequences manifest themselves,” he told the newspaper.
“It isn’t just that the number of cancer cases suddenly increased. We also had double and triple cancers, that is, patients with tumors on both kidneys and in the stomach. And there were also familial clusters, that is, entire families that were affected,” he added.
U.S. Depleted Uranium as Malicious as Syrian Chemical Weapons
By this time you have likely heard of the atrocity that recently took place in which over 1,000 Syrian civilians reportedly died at the hands of a chemical weapon attack. Seeing the video and images of dead or helpless Syrian civilians struggling for life reminds me of another terrible weapon of war — depleted uranium.
It is no secret that the U.S., with the assistance of other governments, used depleted uranium in the Gulf and Iraq War. A simple Google search of this topic can produce dozens and dozens of credible reports or stories to confirm these war crimes. For example, an important report on Harvard University’s website discusses the fallout of depleted uranium contamination in Iraq. Dr. Souad N. Al-Azzawi, who authored the report after the Gulf War, wrote that:
“Depleted Uranium (DU) weaponry has been used against Iraq for the first time in the history of recent wars. The magnitude of the complications and damage related to the use of such radioactive and toxic weapons on the environment and the human population mostly results from the intended concealment, denial and misleading information released by the Pentagon about the quantities, characteristics and the area’s in Iraq, in which these weapons have been used.”
Similarly, as Democracy Now! reported in an interview with Al Jazeera reporter Dahr Jamail, “the U.S. invasion of Iraq has left behind a legacy of cancer and birth defects suspected of being caused by the U.S. military’s extensive use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus.” Democracy Now! wrote:
“Noting the birth defects in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, Jamail says: ‘They’re extremely hard to bear witness to. But it’s something that we all need to pay attention to … What this has generated is, from 2004 up to this day, we are seeing a rate of congenital malformations in the city of Fallujah that has surpassed even that in the wake of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nuclear bombs were d’ pped on at the end of World War II.'”
Moreover, Robert Koehler, a HuffPost blogger, has written extensively about the U.S. government’s use of depleted uranium in Iraq. The following passage from Koehler’s blog “The Suffering of Fallujah” gives us an idea of the immense impact that depleted uranium has had on Iraqi civilians:
“Thus last November, a group of British and Iraqi doctors petitioned the U.N. to investigate the alarming rise in birth defects at Fallujah’s hospitals. ‘Young women in Fallujah,’ they wrote … are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs. In addition, young children in Fallujah are now experiencing hideous cancers and leukemias.'”
“The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has just published an epidemiological study, “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009,” which has found, among much else, that Fallujah is experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukemia and infant mortality than Hiroshima and Nagasaki did in 1945.”
Although Iraqi civilians have born the brunt of this awful weapon, American soldiers that served in the Gulf and Iraq War are also suffering from the fallout of depleted uranium. This issue is discussed in-depth by the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium, which campaigns to “ban on the use of uranium in all conventional weapons and weapon systems and for monitoring, health care, compensation and environmental remediation for communities affected by their use.”
Countries around the world have called for the ban of depleted uranium, but unfortunately this demand has fallen on deaf ears. When asked in 2003 about Iraq’s complaints about depleted uranium shells, Colonel James Naughton of U.S. Army Material Command stated in a Pentagon briefing that “They want it to go away because we kicked the crap out of the them.”
Last week, UK foreign secretary William Hague, said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is “not something that a humane or civilized world can ignore.” Ironically, Western countries such as the UK and their allies have appeared to ignore the use of weapons that are equally vicious.
When “non-Westerners” make use of weapons of mass destruction, there is outrage and calls for military intervention from “the West,” but when “Westerners” themselves use them, it is totally permissible, and the world can hardly react.
The Toxicity of Everyday Survival in Iraq
For more than two decades, Iraq has been the subject of a large-scale toxic warfare experiment. Operation Desert Storm, fought in 1991, was the first time in military history that depleted uranium (DU)—a nuclear waste by-product—was systematically employed against both military and civilian targets. US forces used DU on a much larger scale during the war and occupation that started in 2003.
The effects of this toxic and biological experiment go beyond body counts and the epidemiological evidence of illnesses. They also go beyond the environmental contamination caused by DU-laden weapons. Toxicity has penetrated the quotidian realities of life in Iraq. It is what Iraqis have to endure and negotiate every day in the face of physical, political, social, and environmental degradation—what I call here the “toxicity of everyday survival.”
From Cold to Hot Wars
The original research on the use of DU in warfare dates back to the Cold War era. In the 1970s, US military laboratories began experimenting with alternative heavy metals and alloys to use against the Soviets’ newly developed line of military armor and tanks that were resistant to conventional lead- and steel-based anti-tank ballistics. Depleted uranium is 2.5 times heavier than steel and 1.5 times heavier than lead. It is also relatively cheap because it is produced from processed uranium nuclear industrial waste. It has many of the “penetrating qualities” that were sought at the time. Thus, projectiles were given the sexually charged name “DU penetrators.” Moreover, DU was superior to other heavy metals and alloys for its incendiary effects.
While uranium exists in nature in various forms and is used in a number of building products, its use in warfare in high concentrations unleashes a spectrum of toxicity. The bio-toxic life of the DU projectile is released on high-speed impact with the surface of its target. The collision produces colossal kinetic heat, which causes metal to disband and flesh to burn and disintegrate. When the DU projectile pierces a target, such as a vehicle with passengers, its explosive heat carbonizes all forms of life and machinery.
As DU disintegrates under the high heat of the explosion, it turns into its particle form, uranium oxide, which lingers in the vicinity. These particles are water insoluble and their size can be about one-hundred times smaller than a white blood cell. They contaminate water and soil and enter into the food chain. The particles are so small that they can be blown by wind for tens of kilometers. The uranium aerosol enters the body through ingestion or inhalation, or through coming in contact with an open wound.
The toxicity of DU does not come only from its capacity to kill life, but also its ability to create an array of pathologies and afflictions. In the lungs, the radioactive uranium dust has a bio-toxic life span of close to one year. It can cause many acute symptoms due to its immediate chemical toxicity, which irritates and destroys lung tissue. As it makes its way to the blood stream, the uranium oxides bind with organic compounds to form chemical and organic complexes that deposit in the bones, lymphatic system, liver, and kidneys. DU’s radioactive toxicity, more than its chemical toxicity, affects the development of different kinds of malignancies and genetic mutations. Still, the chemical and irradiation toxicity happen simultaneously to produce a series of acute, chronic, and deadly ailments.
Empire’s Toxic Laboratories
One tragic irony in the DU toxicity that afflicts Iraq is that while the US developed this weapon for Cold War purposes, it was used for the first time after that war ended. Operation Desert Storm was the first post-Cold War war, and the first occasion for the US to experiment with its DU arsenal. Since then it has been a weapon of choice for imperial adventurism and military operations elsewhere as well.
The US military deployed hundreds of tons of DU during the forty-day military campaign, Operation Desert Storm. Much of its use was concentrated in the south of Iraq, as well as in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where the main combat between Iraqi military and American-led coalition forces took place. Doug Rokke, the former head of the Pentagon’s Depleted Uranium Project, described Operation Desert Storm as “the most toxic war known to man.”
The force of this toxic storm was emblematic in images of incinerated bodies and the miles of destroyed military vehicles on Highway 80 (the “Highway of Death”) between Kuwait and Basra. The US military used DU-laden weapons to target alleged storage sites and depots of chemical and biological weapons that released more toxicity in the air. The DU arsenal was also used to hit many civilian targets, such as power supply and water purification plants across the country.
The US military used DU-laden weaponry even more systematically and expansively during the 2003 invasion and throughout the occupation. In urban warfare, it was fired at vehicles and buildings in highly populated civilian areas. It was employed in “counter-insurgency operations,” such as the two battles of Fallujah in 2004.
For two decades, the use of DU and its effects have been a subject of political and scientific controversy. In the US, this controversy played out in scientific evidence of the links—and official denial of those links—between DU and the variety of inexplicable conditions that afflicted US veterans. These conditions, loosely termed the “Gulf War Syndrome,” affected up to one in four Gulf War veterans. The Pentagon criticized scientific research-based evidence as inadequate, and continued to deny veterans’ healthcare claims based on exposure to DU. The Pentagon asserted the “safety” of DU-weaponry on the basis of a number of questionable reports by the RAND Corporation and the Institute of Medicine, a non-profit organization.
In 2004, the results of a five-year Pentagon-sponsored study insisted that DU was neither sufficiently toxic nor radioactive to cause health threats to soldiers. One official involved in the study reported that DU is “a lethal, but safe weapons system.” The study has been criticized as a cover-up, including by the US National Academy of Science. The Pentagon maintains that the destructive capacity of DU is militarily advantageous, and therefore a legitimate and necessary element of the US arsenal.
Since 1991, American and British DU weaponry has been deployed in a number of military operations. It was used during the 1999 NATO bombing of Kosovo and in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Concerns over the rise of cancer rates and other DU-related afflictions have also been on the rise in these countries. Israel also allegedly used DU weaponry in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008 – 2009, and its recent airstrike on targets in the Syrian capital Damascus.
At present, there are no international laws or treaties banning the use of depleted uranium. Therefore, it is up to individual states whether to acquire and use DU-laden weapons. Countries including Germany, Canada, Czech Republic, Norway, and the Netherlands have pledged not to use depleted uranium. Only the US and Britain have admitted to using DU in their military operations.
The Breakdown of Health Care in War-Torn Iraq
In the aftermath of the 1991 war, Iraq witnessed a surge of unexplained cases of physical deformities in both human and nonhuman lives in areas that were subjected to heavy bombardment and shelling by the US military. Farmers complained about genetically mutated livestock and crops. There was a rise in unexplained miscarriages, birth defects, and cancer among infants and children. In the words of one Iraqi pediatrician working in Basra, “Something happened to our environment during that war.”
Most research and observations by Iraqi doctors and scientists were dismissed by the US as regime propaganda. Still, the transformations in Iraq’s environment transcended the breakdown of physical life; it generated shifts in structures of health care in the country. The UN-imposed sanctions compounded the impact and effects of environmental toxicity plaguing the country.
Across Iraq, cancer wards became emblematic of this breakdown of the depleted capacity of medicine and science to save and revitalize life. In the capital’s main pediatric hospital, families from all over the country rushed their infants and children to seek treatment for different kinds of complex conditions. Doctors nicknamed the cancer ward “The People’s Republic of China” in reference to its overcrowded and congested conditions. Often, more than one child shared the same bed in the six-bed-occupancy rooms. Mothers and relatives slept on the hospital’s floor next to their sick children.
Baghdad hospital cancer ward, 2002. James Longley/Daylight Factory
In this mélange of care and toxicity, doctors struggled to save lives in the face of lack of basic supplies, shortages of cancer medications, and the deterioration of care facilities and economic conditions brought on by the sanctions. Over the course of a decade and in the face what I call “ungovernable life”—life that is reduced to its mere vital survival and stripped of its potential for revitalization—many doctors fled the country in search of better careers, and to escape the precariousness of Iraq.
This breakdown of structures of care still lingers more than ten years after the US invasion. Every year, tens of thousands of Iraqis have to travel abroad to seek medical care. Their therapeutic itineraries take them to various regional private medical hubs such as India, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. Unlike the caricature of the medical tourist who travels for cosmetic surgery or other elective procedures, many Iraqis sell belongings or depend on assistance from family, friends, tribes, and political parties to fund treatment for critical health problems.
In Beirut, the American University Medical Center (AUBMC) buzzes with Iraqi patients seeking critical medical and surgical care. They come from all ages, social backgrounds, and governorates. Close to one-third of the approximately five thousand Iraqi patients who have frequented this one hospital since 2003 come for cancer surgeries, radiation, or chemotherapy. Although cancer care is free in Iraq, patients opt to pursue costly survival options abroad because of the unwieldy bureaucracy and the shortages of cancer medication and technology at home.
Over the past ten years, the Iraqi leadership and corrupt government institutions have been unable or unwilling to provide basic healthcare to citizens, especially for the rising numbers of cancer cases. In the south of Iraq, even poor families from the impoverished rural areas are left with no option but to seek care in neighboring Iran.
The collapse of medical care also has been mirrored in the breakdown of trust between doctors and patients; this is another essential reason that patients seek care abroad. Iraq’s health system is plagued by mis-diagnosis, mistreatment, and neglect. Patients accuse doctors in Iraq of being incompetent, greedy, and indifferent. One patient, commenting on the lack of trust in medical doctors, summed it up: “All the good doctors have left, and the ones who remain have lost their humanity.” While Iraq was once celebrated as one of the leading countries in the region for its medical capacities and infrastructure, the degeneration of Iraqi health care began under the effects of the 1991 war and twelve years of sanctions.
Thousands of Iraqi doctors and specialists have escaped the country to seek security and careers elsewhere. Since 2003, this exodus has increased due to ongoing violence that targets doctors directly. Hundreds, if not thousands, of doctors have been threatened, kidnapped for ransom, and/or assassinated. Some doctors have refused to perform surgical operations on patients for fear of retribution or demands for “blood money” from angry family members who might not accept unfavorable outcomes. The Iraqi Parliament recently passed a law allowing doctors to carry arms for their own protection.
Injury and Survival
The political and social malaise continues to be shaped by the failure of the political leadership to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. In Iraqi cities, people are forced to deal with paralyzing traffic congestion, security checkpoints, concrete walls, and the noisy hum and fumes of diesel generators that are used to compensate for war-caused electricity shortages. Poverty, disability, and unemployment are rampant. Sectarian violence in the form of car bombs, suicide bombers, and militia attacks hit streets, neighborhoods, markets, and religious sites, turning the urban space into a slaughter spectacle. Killers are elected to parliament, and religious and political leaders incite violence as they secure wealth, property and power. Corruption festers in this everyday toxic environment.
The injury and survival journey of Abu Ahmed, a thirty-five-year-old man from Fallujah, illustrates this everyday toxicity.[i] In July 2006, during the height of the sectarian violence, Abu Ahmed was shot in the face by an American paramilitary sniper who, he presumes, was a Blackwater contractor because of their presence in Fallujah at that time. The bullet pierced his windshield and ripped through his face. He was rushed by passers-by to the nearest hospital in Fallujah. There, doctors replaced lost blood and cleaned his wound. The bullet, which was extracted from his face, destroyed large parts of his left cheekbone, leaving a two-inch crater which makes it impossible for him to close his mouth fully. Abu Ahmed had to readapt slowly to the most basic daily functions of drinking and chewing food.
The hospital in Fallujah could do only so much. Abu Ahmed was told that he needed a more specialized hospital and surgeons capable of providing facial reconstructive surgery. At the time, he would not dare to venture to the capital because of the violence. Patients were being kidnapped from hospital beds and killed by a Sadrist militia group that had infiltrated the management of the Ministry of Health. His only alternative was to seek care outside the country.
Abu Ahmed’s extended family managed to raise some money by selling a small piece of land. With that and his own savings, Abu Ahmed decided to head to Amman to seek the opinion of a specialist. During that period, waves of Iraqis displaced by the sectarian violence were leaving the country for Jordan and Syria. Jordanian officials systematically denied entry to Iraqi Shi’a forcing them to settle temporarily in the more hospitable Syria.
Abu Ahmed, a Sunni from the province of Anbar, had been working as a driver between Amman and Fallujah for years. Indeed, he had been driving back from Jordan when he was shot. When he went to seek medical treatment, however, Jordanian customs officers denied him entry. Trying to explain the reason for his trip, he removed the yeshmagh (kuffiyah) wrapped around his face to show them his injury. After listening to his story, the customs officers were even more insistent on rejecting him. Surveying his wound, they expressed their suspicion about Abu Ahmed’s involvement with a “terrorist group.” From their point of view, what else could explain why US paramilitaries shot him in the first place!
When Abu Ahmed returned to Fallujah, he was advised to try Syria, where medical and surgical treatment was much cheaper than Jordan. After receiving his first reconstructive surgery in Syria, his family pressed him to make repeat trips for cancer tests because his injury is, both literally and figuratively, an open wound and therefore all the more vulnerable to toxicity. Abu Ahmed’s family, like many Fallujah residents, was concerned about the rising cancer rates following injuries from American ammunition.
According to Abu Ahmed, this kind of risk management practice has become common knowledge as people experience and deal with rising cancer rates, genetic mutations, birth defects, and disabilities. In 2003, his tribe was targeted in a full-scale US air strike that killed eleven people and injured dozens, including women and children. A number of those who were injured fell sick shortly thereafter and died from rapidly developing cancers or other unexplained conditions. The tribe was attacked by US forces on a number of other occasions as well.
In 2012, Abu Ahmed underwent surgery at AUBMC to reconstruct his facial injury with bone and skin grafts. While the surgery restored his functionality and some of the cosmetic aspects of his wound, he lives with the fear and prospect of developing cancer. For him and his extended family, war injuries and cancer are tightly knit phenomena in these webs of toxicity. His wound is not a mere metaphor of the precariousness of the social body; it is the interstitial materialization of war in his everyday survival.
Since 1991, Iraq has been one of the main sites for a US war experiment that has exported toxicity and disability across the world. Hundreds of known sites are contaminated with DU in Iraq. According to one report, the cleanup costs are estimated at thirty million dollars. Recent medical and environmental research in Iraq have just begun to officially document links between the high rates of cancer and congenital birth defects in a number of Iraqi cities to exposure to DU and other toxic weapons. Still, with the ongoing US denial of the lethal and lingering toxicity of DU, and the current political disarray in Iraq, there is little hope that this issue will be addressed anytime soon.
Iraq’s toxicity and the resultant social scars run as deep as the molecular and genetic makeup of society and will afflict generations to come. Despite the end of the occupation in 2011, toxicity still shapes everyday survival in Iraq. The body of Abu Ahmed and millions of Iraqis continue to endure America’s poisonous gift of liberation. Their lives and wounds might be vulnerable to toxicity, but they are open, and shared. They seek everyday survival under conditions that stand as a testament to the horrors of empire’s toxic experiment.
[i] The information about Abu Ahmed is derived from interviews for my current book project, Ungovernable Life: War and Mandatory Medicine in Iraq
World Health Organization Covers Up Iraq War Crimes
By mrdsk on
- How the World Health Organisation covered up Iraq’s nuclear nightmare (Nafeez Ahmed)
- The American Genocide Against Iraq: 4% of Population Dead as result of US sanctions, wars (Juan Cole)
- This chart shows that the Iraq war was worse than we think (Washington Post)
Container with depleted uranium found at Miami-area airport
MIAMI, July 25 (Reuters) – A 55-gallon drum containingdepleted uranium was found near a dismantled plane at aMiami-area airport on Thursday, prompting a brief evacuation butofficials said it posed no environmental risk.
The uranium was discovered on old aircraft parts which hadbeen broken up and placed into a container at the Opa-locaExecutive Airport, said Mara Burger, a spokeswoman for theFlorida Department of Environmental Protection.
“Someone disposed of the plane inappropriately,” she said.
The parts contained uranium 238, a material once used onairplanes for navigational purposes, Burger said.
No injuries were reported and a hazmat team dispatched tothe airport found only minimal levels of radiation, saidLieutenant Arnold Piedrahita, a spokesman for Miami-Dade FireRescue.
The airport handles some secondary traffic for MiamiInternational Airport and offers aircraft maintenance and repairservices. (Reporting by Kevin Gray; Editing by Alden Bentley)