The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned a humanitarian crisis is looming in Iraq’s second largest city Basra following US-led airstrikes on the strategic city. Iraqi officials say 77 civilians died in the attack.
The Red Cross said the bombings destroyed electricity cables powering the local water station. The city’s water and electricity have been cut off for more than two days.
And the situation may get worse.
The Iranian News Agency is reporting today that U.S. and British coalition forces have fired depleted uranium shells on Iraqi tanks in the city of Basra. It is the first report that depleted uranium was used in the invasion of Iraq.
Depleted uranium is the most effective anti-tank weapon ever devised. It is made from nuclear waste left over from making nuclear weapons and fuel. As an unwanted waste product of the atomic energy industry, it is extremely cheap. It is also the densest material available on the market, and can smash through all known armor. US gunners say DU rounds save lives on the front line.
During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the United States used 320 tons of munitions made with depleted uranium. The Air Force fired roughly 750,000 rounds from A-10 aircraft. The Army fired over 50 of DU ammunition from Abrams tanks.
Health officials have long debated the effects of depleted uranium. Many say DU is a major cause of the severe health problems such as cancer and birth defects. The director of the cancer ward at Basra’s Saddam Teaching Hospital says cancer rates have increased eleven times since the first Gulf War.
Last week the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations warned that the U.S. would cause grave environmental consequences if it were to be use DU again in Iraq.
The Pentagon denies depleted uranium poses health or environmental risks.
- Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), who is introducing House resolution calling for Congressional investigation of depleted uranium.
- Pentagon press briefing on depleted uranium, March 14, 2003.
- Doug Rokke, former major in the US army and a nuclear health physicist. Rokke was in charge of some of the DU clean-up after the gulf war. He believes the Pentagon is ignoring and even covering up evidence of the danger to soldiers and civilians because DU weapons have proven so effective.
- Dai Williams, Independent weapons researcher who has analyzed suspected uranium weapons by looking at defense patents. Dai says the Pentagon’s briefing on DU last Friday, March 14th contained many misleading statements about DU.
- Damacio Lopez, Executive Director of International Depleted Uranium Study Team IDUST. He was in Iraq just recently with a Japanese team whose members have researched the effects of Hiroshima on the environment and on humans. Lopez and the team conducted independent tests on radiation contamination and radiation sickness in different towns in Iraq.