Cleaning up more than 300 sites in Iraq still contaminated by depleted uranium (DU) weapons will cost at least $30m, according to a report by a Dutch peace group to be published on Thursday.
the contamination is being spread by poorly regulated scrap metal dealers, including children. It also documents evidence that DU munitions were fired at light vehicles,
buildings and other civilian infrastructure including the Iraqi Ministry of Planning in
Baghdad – casting doubt on official assurances that only armoured vehicles were
“The use of DU in populated areas is alarming,” it says, adding that
many more contaminated sites are likely to be discovered.
More than 400 tonnes of DU ammunition are estimated to have been fired by jets
and tanks in the two Iraq wars in 1991 and 2003, the vast majority by US forces.
The UK government says that British forces fired less than three tonnes.
DU is a chemically toxic and radioactive heavy metal produced as waste by the
material capable of piercing armour.
However, it can contaminate the environment, and has been linked to health
problems in civilian populations. Iraqi doctors have reported increases in
cancers, and an alleged rise in birth defects is
under investigation by the World Health Organisation and the Iraqi Ministry
The health effects are disputed by the US and UK governments, who joined
with France and Israel to vote against
a resolution calling for “a precautionary approach” to the use of DU weapons
at the United Nations general assembly in December; 155 countries voted in
favour of the resolution.
The new report from IKV Pax Christi, an inter-church peace group at Utrecht
in the Netherlands, says sensationalist claims that the use of DU was “equivalent
to 100 Chernobyl accidents” or was an “act of genocide” lacks any scientific basis.
But it argues that the health concerns of Iraqi civilians are real and should be
The report, founded on three investigatory trips to Iraq in 2011 and 2012, quotes
the Iraqi government’s Radiation Protection Centre (RPC) as having identified
between 300 and 365 contaminated sites by 2006. Most of them are in the Basra
region in southern Iraq.
The report’s author, Wim Zwijnenburg from IKV Pax Christi, criticised the US for
failing to confirm where it had fired DU weapons. “It is unclear exactly how many
locations may still be contaminated, or the extent of the risks that civilians
face,” he said.
“DU’s apparent use in built-up areas against a range of targets in 2003 increased
these risks,” he added. “The uncertainty means that fear of DU among Iraqi
civilians is widespread, yet effectively managing DU’s legacy will require
The UK government insisted that it would continue to deploy DU weapons
when needed. “There is no reliable scientific or medical evidence to suggest
DU causes ill health and the UK is therefore one of various countries that do
not favour adopting a precautionary approach to its use,” a UK government
spokeswoman told the Guardian.
“While UK armed forces have not needed to use DU since 2003, it would be
wrong to deny them the potential future use of a legitimate and effective
Though some cleaning up is meant to have been done, the report says that
many sites are still contaminated, and new areas of contamination continue
to be found. It quotes one RPC official as saying that each site could cost
between $100,000-$150,000 to decontaminate, making a total of
between $30m and $45m.
The Iraqi government doesn’t have the resources to deal with the problem,
the report argues. It says it is also failing to control the trade in military scrap
metal, which can be lucrative and involve children.
The US Department of Defence did not provide a response to questions about the