Research and reports on uranium based warheads: hazards for Iraq

by Williams Dai, in Eos Life-Work:  

The War on Terrorism and hazards for Iraq (updated April 2003)

The first year of the US Administration's War on Terrorism has moved on from Afghanistan through security operations in many other countries. The current phase is President Bush's plans for "regime change" in Iraq.

One aftermath of the Afghan War is of the greatest importance to the people of Iraq, and to all countries that may send troops or civilians to Iraq during and after a new military offensive. It is still not known whether many of the weapons used by the US in Afghanistan contained Uranium. What is certain is that the same weapons will be the basis for a new air war in Iraq, as in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

If these weapon systems do use Uranium based warheads this may add an even greater humanitarian disaster than the one still unfolding from the Gulf War in 1991 and subsequent sanctions. Sadly this has not yet been recognised by any of the governments asked to support the new attack. The use of Uranium based weapons with large explosive warheads would be in flagrant violation of articles 35 and 55 of the 1st Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions (1949) see (new link).

The moral, ethical and legal aspects of this possibility must be debated internationally before new military operations are sanctioned by individual countries and the UN General Assembly. These issues for Iraq, and the unfinished business of suspected Uranium weapons use in the Balkans and Afghanistan are raised in:

• Hazards of Uranium weapons in the proposed war on Iraq (Summary) plus summary of US Patents data (added 13 October 2002).

• Full report: web format and PDF file (updated links 27 October)

Extracts from US Patent records PDF file only.

These files are combined in Uranium weapons 2001-2003: Hazards of Uranium weapons in Afghanistan and Iraq (added 11 November 2002) available in hard copy or CD-ROM format from Politicos Bookshop, London - Hard copy (41 pages) ISBN 0-9532083-8-9 - CD-ROM (including both the first and latest reports) ISBN 0-9532083-9-7.

On 2 February the New York Times reported the proposed "Shock and Awe" bombing strategy for attacking Iraq. But UK political parties and the UK media were still unwilling to question the potential health and safety hazards of new weapon systems for UK troops and civilians deployed to the proposed war on Iraq.

The following PowerPoint presentation was added on 7 February 2003 to offer a brief introduction to the latest concerns for MPs, MEPs and media researchers: Last chance to question US Dirty Bombs for Iraq? .

On 12th February the European Parliament Plenary Session in Strasbourg debated a resolution calling for investigations into cluster bombs, depleted uranium ammunition and other Uranium warheads (paragraph 11). It also called for an immediate moratorium on the use of these weapons pending a comprehensive study of their compliance with humanitarian law (paragraph 12). The resolution was passed but no UK reports have been seen yet. An interim copy of the resolution is available in PDF format.

On 26 February a joint briefing was held for UK MPs, Peers and NGOs in Central Hall Westminster with Professor Malcolm Hooper, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Gulf Veterans, regarding Hazards of Uranium weapons in the proposed war on Iraq. Discussion included health and safety precautions for local and expatriate civilians including aid and media workers in the event of radiological bombing.

The Iraq War (updated 10 April)

Military operations started on 20th March. A major bomb and missile attack on Baghdad and other areas started on 21 March. Over 1000 guided weapons were reported in the first 24 hours of which 300+ were targeted on Baghdad. On 22 March updated warnings about the potential hazards of the Shock & Awe air attack strategy were sent to several UN agencies and to the UK Government.

At the end of March the UNEP PCAU (Post Conflict Assessment Unit) announced plans for environmental assessments in Iraq. Hopefully these will include monitoring for suspected use of uranium weapons. Several parallel investigations are likely.

There may be important occupational health implications for employers with staff returning from Iraq combat zones. The MOD will be responsible for health follow up for regular troops. Other employers and private doctors (GP's) may need to be aware of possible physical and psychological consequences of direct or indirect exposure to current combat conditions for aid workers, media teams, part-time troops and other logistic support.

Traumatic exposures are likely to cause transition periods for personnel involved and possibly for close relatives, with PTSD effects in severe cases. Ethical dilemmas arising from the political context of the war, asymetric resources and international reactions may cause additional stress for troops similar to those faced by Vietnam War veterans.

Slow onset medical problems may arise from use of chemical, radiological or biological weapons in addition to endemic hazards for the region. Careful Occupational Health monitoring will be needed for at a least a year. Networking between medical and other post-conflict support services would be very helpful to increase early recognition of unusual problems by pooling observations and epidemiological data. Many of the trauma support organisations listed in the Professional Networking page may become involved for troops and personnel returning to their home countries or for international aid. New networks are also developing.

Similar services on a vast scale will be needed for the Iraqi population and refugees. UN agencies, NGOs and sympathetic governments have started to plan a major support operation, subject to international resources.

The conduct of the war at strategic levels in governments, and its psychological effects on civilians, aid and other international workers including media teams, on military personnel in combat and their families are complex issues. The effects of chronic stress and trauma on the quality of government decisions have been considered in several earlier papers e.g. section 5 above, Psychological aspects of the Balkans War.

Other psychological processes like Groupthink proposed by Yale Psychologist Irving Janis in 1977 may also be relevant to understanding strategic errors. Many aspects of cross-cultural community and international relations will be important to stabilise a potentially very unstable period over the next 2 years. The Iraq War trauma is adding to unresolved consequences of the Afghan war trauma and extends the crisis phase of the potential Global Transition response to the 9-11 disasters. But great healing resources can be liberated when communities are in conflict. Community and peace psychology initiatives may be important, see links below.

The Eos Life~Work resource centre page updated 8 February 2003

Last chance to question US Dirty Bombs for Iraq?

Dai Williams, independent researcher, UK

7 February 2003

A slide show presentation warning of the suspected use of Uranium weapons in Afghanistan and in the proposed war on Iraq. 1500+ tons of Uranium weapons may be used within the first 48 hours of a major air attack. It will be too late to ask these questions after war has begun. The weapons, health and safety hazards to civilians and troops, and immediate international arms control priorities are listed.

This presentation is based on investigations since January 2001 into secret warheads developed for hard target guided bombs and missiles used in the Balkans and Afghanistan. These are described in two Eos reports with links to original Internet sources:

1) Depleted Uranium weapons 2001-2002: Mystery Metal Nightmare in Afghanistan? January 2002 available at

2) Uranium weapons 2001-2003: Hazards of Uranium weapons for Afghanistan and Iraq. October 2002, available at



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