Volume 73, Number 5 | June 2 - 8, 2004


Washington bullets again

Rasoul, 4 1/2, who has leukemia, starts receiving chemotherapy at Al Mansur Teaching Hospital in Baghdad. His mother is at right.

East Village photographer Q. Sakamaki covered the war in Iraq last March. In February of this year, he returned to Baghdad to document, among other things, the effect depleted-uranium bullets fired by the U.S. may be having on Iraqi children.

Made with low-level radioactive nuclear-waste material left over from making nuclear fuel and weapons, depleted uranium is used to coat bullets, giving them an unmatched ability to burn through tank armor.

According to a May 15, 2003, article in the Christian Science Monitor, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said that A-10 Warthog aircraft had fired 300,000 bullets in the war up to that point; and that the normal combat mix for these 30-mm rounds was five D.U. bullets to one normal bullet — “a mix that would have left about 75 tons of D.U. in Iraq.” The article quotes American G.I.’s saying they avoid burning Iraqi tanks for fear of getting cancer and that tanks hit with friendly fire are buried, not salvaged. D.U. bullets were also used in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Rasoul recuperates after chemo.

Doctors at Al Mansur Teaching Hospital in Baghdad told Sakamaki they’ve recently seen an increase in childhood leukemia and birth defects and deformities, which they attribute to depleted uranium. Sakamaki noted that while there is no conclusive proof linking childhood cancers and deformities to D.U., many non-governmental organizations lending aid in Iraq also suspect radioactive D.U.

Children, who are especially vulnerable, come into contact with the substance by touching it or inhaling it when playing and scavenging for metals, mainly copper, in so-called “tank cemeteries,” and through drinking water, according to Sakamaki. Many homeless families shelter near bombed-out Baath Party buildings, even though they are aware of the risk of D.U. contamination, the photographer said.

“They know about D.U. very well,” Sakamaki said. “But they have no place. They don’t want to think about it…. But no choice. No place to live. No safe drinking water.”

He said most contaminated areas don’t have warning signs posted.

“Scientifically, there is no concrete evidence yet” that D.U. causes childhood leukemia, Sakamaki noted. “But this is very political — The American government position is that D.U. is not dangerous.”

An Army public affairs officer did not provide information by The Villager’s press time as to whether the U.S. considers the spent D.U. rounds to be hazardous or if there may be a link to childhood leukemia.

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