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US using uranium WMDs in Iraq

rediff.com Newsdesk | March 31, 2003 21:29 IST

The United States and the United Kingdom, which invaded Iraq ostensibly to strip that country of its weapons of mass destruction, now stand accused of using some of the worst WMDs to overcome the fierce resistance an army, weakened by 12 years of United Nations sanctions, is putting up.

Reports say the Americans used depleted uranium shells, a sub-nuclear weapon, in Al Kifl, a small town on the Euphrates river south of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Several newspapers and Web sites, among them MSNBC, The Independent of London, and the Sunday Herald of Glasgow, have reported their use.

"All you can see is burned out vehicles," NBC's Dana Lewis reported when he entered the town on Saturday.

Three days earlier, the 3rd Mechanized Infantry had tried to take the town, but encountered fierce resistance from Iraqi soldiers who set up sniper nests all along the main road, firing from doors, windows, market stalls, and patches of open ground, MSNBC reported.

A tank unit then fired "two 120mm high velocity depleted uranium rounds straight down the main road, creating a powerful vacuum that literally sucked guerrillas out from their hideaways into the street, where they were shot down by small arms fire or run over by the tanks," the Web site quoting the unit's commander, said.

The Balochistan Post of Quetta said the vacuum created had such intensity that the soldiers were not only sucked out into the open from their hideout, but their flesh and blood was also sucked out of their bodies.

The tank unit commander, who refused to give his name, said the scene was "mad chaos like you cannot imagine".

He told MSNBC, "You couldn't see anything except all those hues of red and the sound of fire from all sides. I'll have nightmares about it."

'Depleted' uranium is what is left after enriched uranium is separated from natural uranium to produce fuel for nuclear reactors. During this process, the fissionable isotope Uranium 235 is separated from uranium. The remaining uranium, which is 99.8% uranium 238, is called 'depleted uranium' and is also used to produce weapons of mass destruction.

Neil Mackay, investigations editor of the Sunday Herald, said the use of such shells flouts a United Nations resolution classifying the munitions as illegal WMDs.

Depleted uranium weapons contaminate the land and cause ill-health and cancers among the soldiers using the weapons, the armies they target, and civilians in the region, leading to birth defects in children.

Their use is a war crime, according to Professor Doug Rokke, former director of the Pentagon's depleted uranium project.

Rokke told the Herald: "This war was about Iraq possessing illegal weapons of mass destruction -- yet we are using weapons of mass destruction ourselves... Such double standards are repellent."

The latest use of the shells, according to the Herald, came on Friday when an American A10 'tankbuster' plane fired a depleted uranium shell killing one British soldier and injuring three others in a 'friendly fire' incident.

Such weapons have been blamed for the effects of Gulf War syndrome, typified by chronic muscle and joint pain, fatigue and memory loss, among 200,000 American soldiers after the 1991 conflict.

They are also cited as the most likely cause of the increased number of birth deformities and cancer in Iraq after 1991.

A UN sub-commission said, "Cancer appears to have increased between seven and 10 times and deformities between four and six times [in Iraq]."

For instance, one Baghdad hospital reported eight cases of babies born without eyes, or anophthalmos, in two years. Seven of the fathers had been exposed to American depleted uranium anti-tank rounds in 1991. Normally only one in 50 million births is anophthalmic.

The Pentagon had admitted that 320 metric tons of depleted uranium were left on the battlefield after the first Gulf war, though Russian military experts say 1,000 metric tons is a more accurate figure.

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