Five years after fierce battles left the Iraqi city of Falluja in ruins a surge in birth defects is raising questions about the weaponry used by US forces.
A heart breaking report by the BBC’s John Simpson screened on TV One on Friday. Simpson talked to doctors in the Falluja hospital who estimate around 1000 birth defects per year. You can hear his BBC radio report here. Late last year the Guardian reported Iraqi doctors had recorded a 15-fold increase in deformities in infants over the past year. Local medics were not ready to blame the war saying that there were many possible causes but a committee of Iraqi and British doctors has petitioned the UN General Assembly asking for an independent operation to clean up toxic materials left over from war.
The International Campaign to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) is concerned by the press reports and is calling on the US Government to clarify to what extent uranium weapons were used at Falluja, and to fund independent scientific research to establish the cause of the birth defects. It has long been thought that the use of depleted uranium weapons is linked with the rise in birth deformities and cancer and other illnesses after the wars in Iraq of 1991 and 2003.
Depleted uranium is nuclear waste. It is the by-product from processing uranium for nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors. It is very hard and heavy and is inserted into ammunition for its armour-piercing properties. It ignites on impact, burning at a very high temperature, dispersing a cloud of radioactive dust which can pass through gas masks and into the human body.
The problem with this issue is that it is near impossible to conduct scientific experiments in a war zone during or after the battle. And military authorities (the US in this case) are not exactly transparent. The ICBUW advocates a precautionary approach and says depleted uranium weapons should be banned until definitive research has been done.
I agree. I have a member’s bill in the ballot that would prohibit the use of depleted uranium weapons in the same way that we ban nuclear weapons. New Zealand forces don’t use depleted uranium weapons but they could be exposed to them in the battlefield. If New Zealand was to follow Belgium, the only country in the world so far to ban DU weapons, it would be a helpful step towards outlawing such inhumane weapons.
A similar bill has just had its second reading in the Irish senate and attracted warm cross-party support.