SCHNEWS - Friday 6th February 2004, Issue 440

"This war was about Iraq possessing illegal weapons of mass destruction - yet we are using weapons of mass destruction ourselves. Such double-standards are repellent." - Professor and former US colonel Doug Rokke, ex-director of the Pentagon's depleted uranium project.

This week a former soldier won a landmark ruling, becoming the first veteran to win a war pension appeal after suffering Depleted Uranium (DU) poisoning. Kenny Duncan took the Ministry of Defence to the Pension Appeal Tribunal Service over his claim that he had suffered poisoning during active service in Iraq during the first Gulf War. Part of his job was to move Iraqi tanks destroyed by DU shells and the tribunal accepted that he was poisoned from inhaling DU dust from the burnt-out tanks. All 3 of Kenny's children also have health problems since being born post-Gulf War.

It's 13 years since the first Gulf War and no health tests for depleted uranium have been made available to former servicemen. A representative fighting for the veterans said, "Mr Blair talks about social justice but he still refuses to give servicemen a public inquiry and depleted uranium tests." Rae Street from Campaign Against Depleted Uranium told SchNEWS, "This is a landmark case, it justifies our and many other groups' and individuals' struggle for a ban on 'Depleted' Uranium munitions."

Veterans of the first Gulf War believe that DU exposure has played a role in leaving more than 5,000 of them chronically ill and almost 600 dead. But it's not just soldiers who face a health time bomb. Professor Rokke said the Americans have unleashed a toxic disaster in the Middle East that will eclipse the Agent Orange tragedy of the Vietnam War. "Uranium dust is so fine that it acts like a gas, seeping through the tiny pores of protective masks. It contaminates air, water and soil for all eternity."

Lab-Rat Nation

DU is a highly toxic heavy metal derived from nuclear bomb and fuel waste and is classified as a "weapon of mass and indiscriminate destruction" by the United Nations. DU emerged in the seventies as America's Cold War weapon of choice - cheap, abundant and devastatingly effective for armor-piercing bullets, cluster bomb fragments that penetrate armor and anti-personnel mines, casing for bombs, shielding on tanks, counter weights and ground penetrator missiles. On contact, DU pulverizes into aerosol-like dust that can travel 26 miles and remains radioactive for 4.5 billion years.

If DU is inhaled, it can attack the body causing cancers, chronic illness, long-term disabilities and genetic birth defects - none of which will be apparent for at least five years. In last year's conflict, between 1,100 and 2,200 tonnes of the stuff were fired at Iraq - a figure that eclipses the 375 tonnes used in the 1991 Gulf War. But unlike that largely desert-based conflict, most of the rounds fired last spring were in heavily residential areas. Readings taken from destroyed Iraqi tanks in Basra are so high in DU that a British army survey team had to wear white, full-body radiation suits, face masks, and gloves. Meanwhile, with nothing to warn them against it, Iraqi children use the tanks to play on. A study undertaken in November by the Uranium Medical Research Committee showed that readings taken from destroyed Iraqi tanks in Basra had radiation levels 2,500 times higher than normal. After the bombing of Baghdad, witnesses living next to the airport reported that 3,000 civilians were incinerated by one morning's attack from aerial bursts of thermobaric and fuel air bombs. The area has now been landscaped by the US forces and Iraqi contractors, preventing a thorough examination.

Jo Wilding, a British human rights observer in Baghdad, has also visited the area and documented a catalogue of miscarriages, hair loss, and horrific eye, skin and respiratory problems. In the row of houses closest to the airport fence, every single household reported some kind of skin or breathing problem. Yet just as the British government refuse to believe any soldiers are suffering from Gulf War Syndrome, they, along with America, are also refusing to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out systematic monitoring tests for uranium contamination in Iraq.

Dr Jawad Al Ali, a renowned Iraqi cancer specialist says that, "The rate of cancer here has multiplied 15 times since the last Gulf war. DU is the cause of these cancers but it's difficult to prove. There are three times more DU in the air than is present naturally. Water and food are the key contaminated sources, and also the 're-suspension of particles' - i.e the re-release of DU into the air through strong winds or the digging up of DU. Children in particular are susceptible. 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 been seen before the age of 12, is now also common."

While Professor Doug Rokke says that use of DU is a "war crime", another professor, Malcolm Hooper, who advises the British Government on Gulf health issues, said he is not surprised by the radiation levels. "Really these things are dirty bombs. Exactly the sort of device that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair keep talking about being in the hands of terrorists."

The Campaign Against Depleted Uranium 0161 273 8293 www.cadu.org.uk

* This week, three Vietnamese who say they and their families became ill from the Agent Orange defoliant used by the United States in the war nearly 30 years ago filed the first lawsuit against makers of the product. Dow Chemical and Monsanto were among more than 20 firms named in the lawsuit. American Vietnam veterans have already sued the makers and in 1984, Dow and Monsanto agreed to pay $180 million to them. Vietnam estimates that about three million of its people suffer from diseases linked to the chemical.

refusing to kill