Iraq’s Depleted Uranium Shells Could Kill 500,000
Image from Christiaan Briggs

In the wake of the first Gulf War, the American Press was enamored with military technology in a way that they never had been before, trumpeting the ability of the modern Roman Legions to put a single bomb through a single window anywhere in the world, or of a soldier to see through the chaos of night combat. Part of the rush of positive media was reserved for the 21st century silver bullet, depleted uranium. It was harder than steel, we were all told, and could cut through enemy armor like it was mere paper. What we didn’t know, was that it would bring rise to a death toll higher than the atomic bombs used at the end of World War II.

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs killed approximately 250,000 people at the end of the second world war; a grim statistic that’s been accepted to be relatively accurate. DU shells, however, are estimated to have claimed 500,000 lives in between 1990 and 2000, not through the force of their violence, but by inhalation and the cancers they’ve caused.

There were 200 tons of the stuff dumped into the Saudi and Iraqi deserts in the first Gulf Warl; a number that has only increased in light of the 2003 invasion. Fortunately, the need for depleted uranium shells has fallen as the current conflict has shifted from a force-on-force conflict to counterinsurgency. However, the toxic armaments are still carried and used, representing a serious threat to the Iraqi population and U.S. veterans of the conflict. So how significant can we expect the fallout from this conflict to be?

Since the first Gulf War, the rate of birth defects and childhood cancer in Iraq has increased sevenfold. In addition, more than 35 percent (251,000) of U.S. Gulf War veterans are dead or on permanent medical disability, compared to the 400 or so that were killed in conflict.