By Carol Dudek
Late in 2016 the Pentagon admitted it fired depleted uranium (DU) weapons in Syria, after repeated denials. More than a ton was dropped, and now Syria joins Iraq (the most toxic nation on earth), Afghanistan, Gaza and the Balkans with a future of severe birth defects, increased cancer rates and an irradiated environment.
The US told journalists in 2015 that aircraft deployed in Syria would not be armed with DU munitions. But activists who doggedly pursued answers learned from a congressional aide that the US fired DU in Syria on November 18 and 23, 2015. Now, PAX and the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons are calling for full disclosure so that the risk of contamination can be assessed and the clean up of toxic materials can begin. Syrian civilians expressed concern about radiation as air strikes on Raqqa and north Syria escalated. Many worry that the secrecy of operations may point to even wider use of the heavy metal. Without a chance admission by a congressional aide, the US would never have volunteered its use of DU in the strikes.
Depleted uranium is forever radioactive and its dust spreads for miles in the wind, contaminating everything - food, water, soil, schools and hospitals. The European Parliament advocates a moratorium on DU weapons. The UN passed a sixth resolution aimed at diminishing DU contamination and asking for help in cleaning up sites. Sadly no assistance has come. Although a huge majority of member states supported the resolution, shamefully the US, UK, France and Israel voted against. Under present law, countries guilty of exploding depleted uranium have no obligation to clean up, in contrast to agreements for clearing land mines and cluster munitions. No rules regulate the production, use, stockpiling or destruction of DU weapons. There are no warning systems for civilians facing exposure.
More than half the DU fired in Iraq is still unaccounted for and the US refuses to release data. But recently-declassified documents show most of the radioactive ammo fired in 2003 was not at armored vehicles and tanks, but at personnel and buildings in densely populated areas of Iraq and Afghanistan. Before the 1991 Gulf War Iraq’s cancer rate was 40 cases in 100,000; after four years it climbed to 800 in 100,000; in 2005 the rate doubled to 1,600 cases in 100,000. Birth defects have skyrocketed in Fallujah, a site of high contamination of metals including uranium. Nervous system defects there are 33 times the rate in Europe, and heart defects are 13 times greater. 14.7% of babies in Fallujah have birth defects. The World Health Organization investigated the relation of abnormal birth defects in southern Iraq and environmental contamination but the report never got through the Security Council.
The Pentagon claimed the bombings were in defense of the Syrian people yet reneged on its promise that DU would not be used. This reminds us that the US invaded Iraq to destroy non-existent WMDs and left a devastating radioactive legacy.