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"A dumping ground for radioactive waste"

July 18, 2003 | Page 6

SADDAM HUSSEIN'S supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction wasn't the real threat in Iraq. Instead, the greater threat--to both innocent Iraqis and U.S. soldiers--may come from U.S. munitions coated with depleted uranium (DU), which leaves behind radioactive debris. FRIDA BERRIGAN is a research associate at the World Policy Institute who has studied the effects of DU. She talked to Socialist Worker about this deadly weaponry.

THE MILITARY says that DU munitions are "too effective" to give up. How do you respond to that?

THERE'S NO doubt that depleted uranium does what it's advertised to do--which is to penetrate hardened targets, namely armored vehicles or reinforced bunkers. It does do that, and so on that level, what the Pentagon is saying is true.

But there are a couple of things to take into consideration that weren't mentioned by the Pentagon as they built this very strong case for the use of depleted uranium in order to head off criticism. What they didn't talk about is the fact that the Iraqi military is not the kind of enemy that we would need to use depleted uranium against.

I'm sure you know, and your readers know, that the Iraqi military was once quite a formidable opponent, before the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s and then the Gulf War in 1991. Since then, we've basically had a wall around the entire country. Very little new military technology has come in. They don't have armored vehicles. They don't have all that many reinforced bunkers.

It just wasn't a necessary weapon to use in Iraq. But the Pentagon wanted to use this weapon, so in order to do that they really had to "elevate" the profile of the Iraqi military.

Take into consideration all of the side effects of depleted uranium--the toxic and radioactive debris that is distributes through the environment; the health and environmental effects, both for Iraqi civilian and for U.S. military personnel. It would be really hard to make a credible case for the use of DU in Iraq. The Pentagon basically lied on two fronts: one, lying that it was safe, and two, lying that it was necessary to defeat Saddam Hussein.

One thing that the Geneva Convention talks about is that the weapons used in conflict have to be, essentially, able to be "turned off" at the end of a conflict. And the United States is totally in violation of that, with the use of landmines and cluster bombs--and with the use of depleted uranium munitions. The war continues long after--years after--the "hostilities" have ended or an armistice is reached.

A lot of these things, like cluster bombs, are really attractive to children. They're brightly colored, They're sort of funny and interesting looking. The same is true with land mines. And there's the debris of depleted uranium ammunition lying all over the place as well. This is very dangerous because they've exploded, the dust has been released, and it's radioactive and toxic.

There's 80 percent unemployment in Iraq, and people are collecting things off of the ground in hopes of selling it. It's metal that people might be able to melt down, and it has some value. So you have people actively picking this stuff up.

BECAUSE ALL the lies about Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" are unraveling, the Bush administration has changed over to talking about how the war kicked out a tyrant. How do you respond to that?

IT'S JUST absurd. And we knew a lot of this before the war started. People in the [International Atomic Energy Agency] were saying that Saddam Hussein didn't have nuclear weapons. The inspectors--many of whom quit during the middle period, like Scott Ritter and others--were saying that there weren't any weapons of mass destruction, and that the inspectors in the mid-1990s had done their job really well.

I think in dribs and drabs, the administration will admit to as much as they have to admit to. I consider it--and I think there's a growing movement of people who agree--an impeachable offense. The president lied and knowingly manipulated information in order to make the case for war.

And that case for war was necessary. The administration didn't want to have to make that case, but in the face of opposition to the war in this country and throughout the world, they were really forced to cobble together this pathetic causus belli for invading Iraq.

I think in the long term, we'll see that the people of Iraq--aside from those who are directly benefiting from the U.S. occupation--aren't really going to be better off than they were under Saddam Hussein. I don't disagree at all that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, and I believe the people who say that they're happy he's gone. But I have very little confidence in the U.S. occupation--first of all, bringing basic services to the Iraqi people.

We have to remember that before the First Gulf War, this was essentially a rapidly developing nation--and it has been pushed back into the stone age. I have very little confidence that the U.S. can bring basic services--water, electricity, health care--to the Iraqi people.

We're seeing this mad scramble on the part of U.S.-based companies with close ties to the administration getting all of those contracts. We know that they don't really have the best interests of the Iraqi people as their first and foremost goal--which is to make money. So the privatization of restoring Iraqi infrastructure is going to fail. All of these companies have really bad track records in this country, and I see no reason to believe that they're going to do a good job of restoring basic services there.

Second, the U.S. occupation is so unpopular. It is really seen as blatantly wrong and imperialist by the Iraqi people, who aren't idiots and who understand that they were the ones who suffered under 12 years of sanctions.

So I think the United States is going to have a really hard time winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people--and they aren't going to do it by using Iraq as a dumping ground for radioactive waste, which is what depleted uranium is. They're not going to do it by the sort of bombing campaigns that they undertook during the war. They're not going to do it with their different factions and tribal groups in Iraq, and this totally incredible, uncredible Iraqi National Congress--which has been based in London and western Europe for the last 20 years as the majority of the Iraqi people have been suffering.

I just don't think they have the confidence of the Iraqi people, and I don't think that that's going to get any better. So the whole idea that we've "liberated" Iraq just doesn't bear out when people don't have food, when people don't have water and when people don't have democracy.

And when we see U.S. officials and U.S. generals actively countering democratic impulses to protest or to criticize, to have free and fair elections--all these initiatives that have been undertaken locally are being squashed by Bremer and the generals who are in charge of Iraq. U.S. "liberation" is a myth, and the Iraqi people recognize that.

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