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Remains of toxic bullets litter Iraq

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"After we shoot something with DU, we're not supposed to go around it, due to the fact that it could cause cancer," says a sergeant in Baghdad from New York, assigned to a Bradley, who asked not to be further identified.

"We don't know the effects of what it could do," says the sergeant. "If one of our vehicles burnt with a DU round inside, or an ammo truck, we wouldn't go near it, even if it had important documents inside. We play it safe."

Six American vehicles struck with DU "friendly fire" in 1991 were deemed to be too contaminated to take home, and were buried in Saudi Arabia. Of 16 more brought back to a purpose-built facility in South Carolina, six had to be buried in a low-level radioactive waste dump.

Television footage of the war last month showed Iraqi armored vehicles burning as US columns drove by, a common sign of a strike by DU, which burns through armor on impact, and often ignites the ammunition carried by the targeted vehicle.

"We were buttoned up when we drove by that - all our hatches were closed," the US sergeant says. "If we saw anything on fire, we wouldn't stop anywhere near it. We would just keep on driving."

That's an option that produce seller Hamid doesn't have.

She says the US broke its promise not to bomb civilians. She has found US cluster bomblets in her garden; the DU is just another dangerous burden, in a war about which she remains skeptical.

"We were told it was going to be paradise [when Saddam Hussein was toppled], and now they are killing our children," she says voicing a common Iraqi perception about the risk of DU. "The Americans did not bother to warn us that this is a contaminated area."

There is a warning now at the Doura intersection on the southern outskirts of Baghdad. In the days before the capital fell, four US supply trucks clustered near an array of highway off-ramps caught fire, cooking off a number of DU tank rounds.

American troops wearing facemasks for protection arrived a few days later and bulldozed the topsoil around the site to limit the contamination.

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