Campaign Against Depleted Uranium

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DU Horrors to be Repeated In Iraq?

The British Government makes clear its determination to use DU.
As both the US and British Governments fix their sights on a new war with Iraq there is increasing concern that the unresolved tragedies of the 1991 Gulf War will be repeated on an even larger scale than before. With thousands of Gulf War Veterans still suffering from illnesses that the British and American governments refuse to recognise as being caused by their service in the Gulf and ever rising levels of cancers, leukemias, and birth deformities in Iraq if ever there was a time to learn from past mistakes it is now.

Britain to Use DU Weapons

CADU has been very alarmed to learn that Whitehall sources have made it clear that British defence plans will be to provide "a large British force supported by heavy armour" including the use of Challenger II battle tanks. The Challenger II is the only current British frontline tank and it uses almost exclusively the L27 depleted uranium kinetic energy round. Although there also exists the L23 tungsten KE round their explosive charges are now passing their use by date and it is considered obsolete. The Challenger II tank has been the subject of much embarrassment to the MOD recently when in an exercise in Oman last year more than half the Challenger tanks broke down, mainly because their engine air-filters proved inadequate in desert conditions

The ministry of defence has made no secret of the fact that they are planning to continue using depleted uranium. This month, in response to a letter from CADU addressed to Tony Blair and Geoff Hoon, the Ministry of Defence wrote "DU will remain part of our arsenal for the foreseeable future because we have a duty to provide our troops with the best available equipment with which to protect themselves and succeed in conflict". Deeply ironic we felt to talk of protecting our troops with DU weapons. Campaigners may also be interested to note that this August Alvis acquired the manufacturing of Challenger II tanks after buying Vickers' defence business from Rolls Royce.

Denial of DU Effects on Health

In the same letter the MOD claimed, "there is no scientific or medical evidence to link DU with ill-health". This is clearly an untruth since the Royal Society report out earlier this year, (see CADU News 10) that the MOD also refers to in its reply, found that DU could cause fatal kidney failure, respiratory damage and damage to DNA and reproductive health. The Royal Society report also recommends that much further research needs to be done.

Only this month a report by the Uranium Medical Research Centre in Washington DC found that 11 years on over half the Gulf Veterans in the study tested positive for DU. Another study, also out this month by German biochemist, Professor Albrecht Schott, found that British veterans who fought in the Gulf and Balkan wars (where DU was also used) had up to 14 times the usual level of chromosome abnormalities as would be found in civilian populations.

Yet Britain is one of the few countries in NATO that still refuses to recognise Gulf war Syndrome and compensate its soldiers. To expose more soldiers to DU contamination without first establishing the cause of an illness that has affected thousands of British Gulf Veterans nor provide for their subsequent care is a gross dereliction of duty by the MOD.

Refusal To Take Responsbility for Past Actions

Moreover there has been a serious attempt by the allied forces that attacked Iraq to follow up the consequences of their use of DU weapons in 1991 on the Iraqi population. In winter 2001 lobbying by Washington successfully caused the General Assembly of the United Nations to reject a UN study on the effects of depleted uranium in Iraq. However reports released this year from both UNEP and the Royal Society recommended that areas contaminated by depleted uranium should be cordoned off and local food and water supplies monitored for decades to come.

When a site in Cardiff, Wales, was found to be contaminated with depleted uranium this July, soil was classified as low level radioactive waste and transported to a radioactive waste disposal facility near Sellafield. None of these protections have been afforded to Iraqi civilians. The MoD argues in its reply to CADU that it is under "no legal obligation to return to the region post-conflict to clear up any DU that remains." However this was only a precedent that was set by the USA after precarious legal argument, and certainly not a moral one, that can justify exposing a civilian population for possibly generations to come with toxic and radiological pollutants.

If Britain is to go down this route then there must be an honest and widespread public debate about this issue. We believe that the British Government is using selective science and the protection of political and military interests to suppress this debate.

CADU is profoundly opposed to any US and British attack on Iraq believing that they have shown no factual basis to the assertion that Saddam Hussain is a threat either to the West or to his neighbours at this time and that an invasion of Iraq will add nothing to the proclaimed objectives of "the war on terror". The War will only add to the suffering of the Iraqi people, who have already borne the brunt of the harshest ever UN sanctions for the past 11 years, destabilise the region and will clearly be illegal under international law. We think the British Government's clear determination to use DU weapons again in Iraqi despite the unresolved death and illness of those contaminated first time around is completely immoral and irresponsible.

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Page last updated: January 28, 2003