The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Depleted uranium:
One of the U.S.'s "weapons of mass destruction"

Apr 14, 2003

In the massive assault on Iraq, the U.S. military has been widely using ammunition made of depleted uranium (DU). One of the densest substances known, DU is used for its ability to penetrate any armor.

But DU is also radioactive. It's called "depleted" only because it is no longer useful as fuel in nuclear reactors. It still continues to release harmful radiation – and will for hundreds of centuries. When DU munitions explode, they turn into a fine dust which causes severe metal poisoning if inhaled and contaminates the soil and ground water.

The first U.S.-led attack on Iraq in 1991 was the first military campaign in history in which DU was used on a wide scale. Soldiers returning from that war soon exhibited a wide range of ailments, known as the Gulf War syndrome: respiratory and kidney problems; rashes; bone cancer; damaged reproductive and nervous systems; birth defects in their offspring, to name a few. Then came the "Balkan syndrome," a similar array of health problems observed among troops who were stationed in the former Yugoslavia after the NATO airstrikes used DU there in 1995.

Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs has classified nearly one out of three of the 504,000 eligible veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War as disabled. That's the highest rate of disability for any modern war. Most scientists agree today that these veterans' symptoms resemble health problems caused by heavy metal poisoning and exposure to low levels of radiation.

Not surprisingly, similar health problems have afflicted Iraqi people, and more severely. In Basra, in Southern Iraq, where much of the fighting and bombing in 1991 took place, the rate of cancer has increased more than ten-fold, from 11 per 100,000 people in 1988 to 116 per 100,000 in 2001. Birth defects have also skyrocketed.

The Pentagon has cynically dismissed the evidence of what happened to Iraqis as "Saddam's propaganda," while government "experts" suggest that the veterans' ailments may be "psychological" in origin – that is, in their heads!

American soldiers share with Iraqi people the gruesome consequences of these barbaric wars, in most cases for the rest of their lives. And they have much more in common with the Iraqi people than they have with the warmongers – the politicians, generals and bosses – who start these wars.