DU = ‘Disarm USA’ or ‘Depleted Uranium’? 
Part I      (Part II see below )
By Lamya Tawfik
HealthProblems HowItSpreads Pandora'sBox Iraq 1991 BirthDeformities Bosnia 1995 Kosovo 1999 Afghanistan 2001
Iraq 2003 Israël too Finally: few questions
A historical overview of the United States’ DU usage over the last decade 

What do Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan have in common? Depleted Uranium 
(DU) is abundant in the bodies of those who live there and on their soil. These 
regions have been laced by DU, thanks to their brethren who live on the either 
side of the pacific.

With DU having a half-life of more than 4 billion years, the grim fact, which 
they will have to disclose to their children through out the years, is that 
their land has been contaminated for eternity; undeniably so.

It’s no secret (trust me, it’s not, just try a ‘DU’ search on any search 
engine) that the U.S. and some of its allies have marked their place forever in 
history, by intentionally using a plethora of weapons laced with depleted 
uranium in virtually every terrorism – sorry, war - against ‘terrorism’. 

Using munitions laced with DU is a crime that makes Saddam Hussein’s 1991 
burning of Kuwaiti oil fields an amateurish act of terrorism. 

DU 101
Before we go any further let’s first put forward an obvious question. What is 
DU? Like many buzzwords, DU is commonly used. But what does it really mean? 

According to a fact sheet published by the World Health Organization (WHO), 
natural uranium, which exists in varying but small amounts in rocks, soils, 
water, air plants, animals and in all human beings, consists of a mixture of 
three radioactive isotopes which are identified by the mass numbers U-238 
(99.27% by mass), U-235 (0.72%) and U-234 (0.0054%). 1 

“The uranium remaining after removal of the enriched fraction contains about 
99.8% U-238, 0.2% U-235 and 0.001% U-234 by mass; this is referred to as 
depleted uranium or DU. The main difference between DU and natural uranium is 
that the former contains at least three times less U-235 than the latter. 

“DU, consequently, is weakly radioactive and a radiation dose from it would be 
about 60% of that from purified natural uranium with the same mass.” 2 

DU, the fact sheet explains, is used because of its high density (about twice 
that of lead) in civilian uses as counterweights in aircraft, radiation shields 
in medical radiation therapy machines and containers for the transport of 
radioactive materials. Militarily, DU is used for defensive armor plate because 
of its high density but also because it can ignite on impact if the temperature 
exceeds 600°C. 3 

Health problems due to chemical toxicity of DU include the damage of the 
kidney’s proximal tubules (the main filtering component of the kidney). Other 
health problems include the damage of lung tissue, which could lead to lung 
cancer with increased radiation doses. However, because DU is only weakly 
radioactive, very large amounts of dust (in the order of grams) would have to 
be inhaled for the additional risk of lung cancer to be detectable in an 
exposed group. Risks for other radiation-induced cancers, including leukemia, 
are considered to be very much lower than for lung cancer.4 

Despite, the well-known hazards of DU to health and the environment, weapon-
manufacturing gurus have still used the substance because it is easy to find 
and is efficient.

How it spreads
By wind and rain, DU is spread into the environment putting people who live and 
work in affected areas at the risk of inhaling DU laden dusts or even having 
excessive amounts of DU in their food and drinking water. 5

Because of their tendency to put everything in their mouths, children playing 
near DU impact sites are more likely to receive greater exposure to DU from 
ingesting contaminated soil. 6 

According to Dr. Jawad Al-Ali, an oncologist and member of the Royal Society of 
Physicians in the U.K, "The desert dust carries death. Our studies indicate 
that more than forty percent of the population around Basra will get cancer. We 
are living through another Hiroshima." 7 

This was his comment regarding the damage left behind by the U.S-led coalition 
in the 1991 bombing of Iraq. 

A 1991 study by the UK Atomic Energy Authority predicted that if less than 10 
percent of the particles released by depleted uranium weapons used in Iraq and 
Kuwait were inhaled it could result in as many as "300,000 probable deaths." 8 

It’s just the “Gulf Syndrome” 

"As a result of heavy metal and radiological poison of DU, people in southern 
Iraq are experiencing respiratory problems, kidney problems, cancers. Members 
of my own team have died or are dying from cancer," said Doug Rokke, the health 
physicist for the U.S. army who oversaw the partial clean up of depleted 
uranium bomb fragments in Kuwait. He himself has fallen ill. 9 

Rokke is not the only ‘victim’. During the 1991 Gulf war, many soldiers 
participating in the attacks against Iraq were not even aware of the DU that 
was being used in their weapons. Many were coming back sick, plagued with a 
number of diseases and excessive DU traces in their bodies.

The term coined for this was the ‘Gulf Syndrome’ - a benign name for a 
malignant, grisly truth.  Some analysts saw this as a crisis in civil-military 
relations saying the Pentagon may have withheld and distorted information about 
the soldier’s exposure to DU munitions.10

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark drafted an appeal to the U.S. 
government to ban the use of DU weapons saying that “of the 697,000 U.S. troops 
who served in the Gulf, over 90,000 have reported medical problems.” 

"Symptoms include respiratory, liver and kidney dysfunction, memory loss, 
headaches, fever, low blood pressure. There are birth defects among their 
newborn children."11

DU contamination; Pandora’s box

However, the DU dust did not only affect those taking part in the war, but the 
entire Gulf region is living through an environmental crisis due to the spread 
of DU dust. 

Even the country that was being liberated at the time, Kuwait, saw the result 
of DU last year after thousands of fish were found dead on its shores in the 
year 2002.12 

There were many theories proposed by scientists investigating the crisis, 
soaring temperatures being one, but one of the explanations proposed was the 
300 tons of DU that were being used by the NATO forces in 1991 to bomb Iraq in 
Operation Desert Storm. 

These theories were not unfounded. In February 2001, Kuwaiti officials 
announced the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will send inspectors to 
survey Kuwaiti territories for depleted uranium (DU) possibly used by U.S. 
troops during the 1991 Gulf War after local outcries that Kuwaitis were facing 
a health hazard similar to that reported in the Balkans. 

“An investigating team from a U.S. solidarity delegation to Iraq on January 
18th found ‘extremely high levels of radioactivity’ in soil samples in the 
Iraqi desert south of Basra.”13 

Over the next few sections, we’ll take a journey through the U.S.’s (and it’s 
allies) usage of DU during the last few wars. There have been no qualms about 
using DU laced munitions in any war on the part of the United States. 

Iraq: 1991 

Perhaps the world, outside the academic field, began to know about DU and its 
harms right after the Kuwaiti liberation war in 1991. In addition to using 
hallucinogenic weapons14, the U.S. also used more than 300 tons of DU munitions 
(some reports say 900). 

After the meeting of the fifty-eighth session of the United Nations Commission 
on Human Rights in March 2002 in Geneva, a report published by the WHO said 
that an Iraqi delegation stated “there are increasing rates of cancer from 
depleted uranium, and pollution of drinking water which causes diseases 
particularly among children.”15 

Peace activist Ginny NiCarthy spoke about her visit to Iraqi hospitals and said 
that a Baghdad pathologist showed them photos of birth defects that emerged 
after the war. 
A Baghdad pathologist showed our team photographs of birth defects: infants 
without eyes, without limbs, or whose brains had no covering, or whose 
intestines were outside their bodies, or whose noses were above their eyes 
instead of below. He, as well as many other scientists, believes the birth 
defects are caused by the fathers' inhaling of DU on the battlefield.

The incidence of such births is still about two in each thousand. But the 
increase since 1991 has been so dramatic, and the deformities so grotesque, 
that for many women, pregnancy is rife with fear. A new mother's first question 
used to be, "Is it a boy or a girl?" Now she wants to know, "Is it normal or 
abnormal?" 16

Birth deformities increased significantly in Iraq after Desert Storm

In 1995, the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean sent a 
mission to Iraq to assess the national cancer registry and to advise on cancer 
incidence rates. A second mission went to Iraq in August 1998 to advise on 
possibilities for investigating the reported increase in leukemia cases in the 
southern governorates. At the end of January 2001, another mission 
visited the country to assess the situation of non-communicable diseases, 
including cancer, and to advise on strengthening national prevention and 
control initiatives. 17 

In a report published by the Iraqi Health Ministry in July 2001, the ministry 
said that the laser guided bombs and uranium tipped weapons used by the 
coalition in 1991 against Iraq caused increased incidence of leukemia, 
congenital deformities and hereditary diseases. 18 

According to Iraqi sources, cancer rates have quadrupled in areas of southern 
Iraq, which was bombed the most in the second gulf war. 

Bosnia: 1995
According to the WHO, a U.N. expert team reported in November 2002 that they 
found traces of DU in three locations among 14 sites investigated in Bosnia 
following NATO air strikes in 1995. 19 

Reports say that leukemia rates in Sarajevo have tripled in the last five 
years. Also affected are NATO and U.N. peacekeepers in the region who are
coming down with cancer. 20

KOSOVO: 1999 

Measuring DU contamination in Kosovo

By 1999, talk about the Gulf War Syndrome subsided, and instead a 
new ‘Syndrome’ appeared: “The Balkan Syndrome”. 

In response to a request from the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, a WHO team 
visited Kosovo from 22 to 31 January 2001 to advise on claims regarding the 
possible risks to the health of the population associated with exposure to 
depleted uranium and other environmental contaminants. 21 

In January 2001, Switzerland ordered labs to check DU weapons samples from 
Kosovo for plutonium amidst concern. Also the United Nations Environemt 
Programme (UNEP) sent a mission to Kosovo to check DU contaminated sites. 

“NATO has been criticized for using armor-piercing shells in the Balkans, which 
some ailing soldiers and anti-nuclear campaigners say have caused cancer. 

“The alliance and the United States, whose aircraft fired some 40,000 DU shells 
during the 1999 air raids against Yugoslavia in Bosnia in 1994-95 and earlier 
in the Arab Gulf, deny there is any link between the use of DU-ammunition and 
cancer.” 22 

The second part of this article, shall discuss the war in Afghanistan, the most 
recent Gulf War as well other states’ usage of DU for military purposes. 

Lamya Tawfik is a Cairo-based freelancer. She is currently preparing her 
master’s degree in Mass Communication with a specialization in Children’s Media 
Education at the American University in Cairo. She has previously worked as a 
news editor at IslamOnline.net and as a journalist and public relations 
specialist in Dubai, UAE. You can reach her at lamyatawfik@islam-online.net 


1- Depleted Uranium, WHO fact sheet 

2- Ibid. 

3- Ibid. 

4- Ibid. 

5- Ibid. 

6- Ibid. 

7- DU: Cancer as a weapon, Counter Punch. org 

8- Ibid. 

9- Ibid. 

10 Foster, Gregory, Failed Expectations: The Crisis of Civil-Military Relations 
in America, Brookings Institute 

11-  WHO Team to Study Effects of Depleted Uranium in Iraq, IslamOnline 

12- Depleted Uranium Possible Cause For Dead Fish in Kuwait, IslamOnline 

13- International Atomic Body To Look For U.S. Depleted Uranium In Kuwait, 

14- Spy Says U.S. Used Hallucinogenic Weapons Against Iraq , IslamOnline 

15- Health and the Fifty-Eighth  Session of the United Nations Commission On 
Human Rights, March 2002, WHO 

16- NiCarthy, Ginny,  The Weapon That Never Quits, Seattle Community Network 

17- WHO: Health Effects of Depleted Uranium, March 2001 

18- Over 9,000 Iraqis Died in June Due to U.N. Sanctions, IslamOnline 

19- Depleted Uranium, WHO fact sheet 

20- DU: Cancer as a weapon, Counter Punch. org 

21- WHO: Health Effects of Depleted Uranium, March 2001 

22- International Atomic Body To Look For U.S. Depleted Uranium In Kuwait, 

DU = ‘Disarm USA ’ or ‘Depleted Uranium’?
Part II
By Lamya Tawfik

In the first part of this article we saw how the United States used depleted 
uranium in nearly every military operation it has conducted over the last 
decade. This article will discuss how DU was used by the U.S. in the 2001 war 
on Afghanistan , and also in this year’s war on Iraq . It is also used by 
Israel against the Palestinians.


The United States used DU weapons to pulverize Afghanistan ’s barren mountains 
and harsh plains

According to some reports, the “Afghan War Syndrome” that started to appear 
among soldiers after the war is “marked by a state of vague ailments and 
carcinomas, and is linked with the usage of depleted uranium as part of 
missiles, projectiles and bombs in the battlefield.”[1]

The Baltimore Chronicle published an extensive report in December 2001 and said 
that there is a “growing concern in central Asia that the United States has 
used depleted uranium in its strikes against Afghanistan .”

"As a result of the current conflicts, people of Afghanistan, who had been 
dying of starvation up till now, are likely to savor a more modern mode of 
death: death owing to radioactive materials pulverized over barren mountains 
and harsh plains in modern world's war on terrorism," the Chronicle said.

However, the paper also said that not only are the Afghani people in danger, 
but so are people living in nearby countries (such as Pakistan -the U.S. ’s 
staunches ally on the “war on terrorism”). [2]

IRAQ : 2003

An effective clean-up and monitoring program of both soldiers and civilians 
must begin

Right after the U.S. and U.K. forces wrapped their war against Iraq in April, 
environmental agencies around the world raised red flags to the catastrophic 
situation in Iraq .

According to a report issued by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) 
there is a need for “urgent measures to address humanitarian issues. Priorities 
should include restoring the water supply and sanitation systems, cleaning-up 
possible pollution ‘hot spots’ and cleaning-up waste sites to reduce the risk 
of disease epidemics from accumulated municipal and medical wastes. [3]

“Another priority activity should be conducting a scientific assessment of 
sites struck with weapons containing depleted uranium (DU). The report 
recommends that guidelines be distributed immediately to military and civilian 
personnel, and to the general public, on how to minimize the risk of accidental 
exposure to DU.”

The report also said that the war on Iraq has added to the “chronic 
environmental stresses that have accumulated in Iraq over the past two 
decades.” [4]

It also added that the extent of damage caused by DU is unknown and a study in 
the region would require “receiving precise coordinates of the targeted sites 
from the military.”

The Royal Society of England also called on the coalition forces to reveal 
where and how much depleted uranium was used in the conflict in Iraq, so that 
an effective clean-up and monitoring program of both soldiers and civilians can 
begin and also highlighted the need to obtain further data on the exposure 
levels that can occur on the battlefield and in residential areas.[5]

Professor Brian Spratt FRS, Chair of the Royal Society working group on 
depleted uranium, said: "About 340 tons of DU were fired in the 1991 Gulf War. 
The coalition needs to make clear where and how much depleted uranium was used 
in the recent conflict in Iraq . We need this information to identify civilians 
and soldiers who should be monitored for depleted uranium exposure and to begin 
a clean-up of the environment.

"Fragments of depleted uranium penetrators are potentially hazardous, and a 
recent Royal Society study recommended that they should be removed, and areas 
of contamination around impact sites identified, and where necessary made safe. 
Impact sites in residential areas should be a particular priority. Long-term 
monitoring of water and milk to detect any increase in uranium levels should 
also be introduced in Iraq . This would provide a cost-effective method of 
monitoring sensitive components in the environment, and provide information 
about uranium levels to concerned local populations.

"Although there are more pressing problems in Iraq currently, such as ensuring 
that civilians have access to fresh water, food, power and medical services, 
and removing unexploded shells, the coalition needs to acknowledge that 
depleted uranium is a potential hazard and make in-roads into tackling it by 
being open about where and how much depleted uranium has been deployed."[6]

The Royal Society’s recent study on the health hazards of depleted uranium 
found that most soldiers and civilians are unlikely to be exposed to dangerous 
levels of depleted uranium during and after its use on the battlefield, but 
concluded that some soldiers might suffer kidney damage and an increased risk 
of lung cancer if they breathe in substantial amounts of it, for instance 
inside an armored vehicle hit by a depleted uranium penetrator. [7]

It also called for soldiers exposed to high levels of depleted uranium to be 
tested for its levels in their bodies. In its latest report, the Society 
recommended that in any future conflict using DU munitions, measurements of 
uranium in urine and modern biochemical tests of kidney function should be 
carried out on soldiers exposed to substantial levels as soon after exposure as 
practical and at subsequent intervals thereafter, the Society said on their 

The Society also said that “exposure to DU on the battlefield may cause a 
doubling of the usual risk of death from lung cancer among a small group of 
soldiers in extreme circumstances, for example, if they inhale large amounts 
after their vehicle has been struck by a DU penetrator or if they have been 
working for long periods of time inside and around contaminated vehicles.” It 
also said that risks of leukemia and other cancers from exposure to DU 
radioactivity are likely to be very low for all conceivable battlefield 

The study emphasizes that the impact sites of depleted uranium penetrators may 
be heavily contaminated, and could be harmful if swallowed by children for 
example. In addition, large numbers of corroding depleted uranium penetrators 
embedded in the ground might pose a long-term threat if the uranium leaches 
into water supplies.[9]

The day following the Royal Society’s statement, the U.K. ’s Guardian newspaper 
reported that the Ministry of Defense will offer tests to soldiers returning 
from the war on Iraq to check the levels of DU in their bodies to “assess 
whether they are in danger of suffering kidney damage and lung cancer as a 
result of exposure”.[10]

“Experts have calculated that from all sources, between 1,000 and 2,000 tons of 
depleted uranium were used by the coalition in the three-week conflict,” said 
the Guardian.

Perhaps the troops coming in from the U.K. will be offered tests to check 
levels of depleted uranium in their bodies, but who will offer the same tests 
to the millions of Iraqi civilians?

Israel Too

In November 2000 the International Action Center, an organization founded by 
former U.S. Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, called on international 
organizations, NGOs, environmental and health organizations to “investigate the 
Israeli military’s use of prohibited weapons in the West Bank and Gaza, and to 
mobilize to stop it.”[11] These weapons included dumdum bullets, CS gas as well 
as DU weapons.

“The effect of dumdum bullets and CS gas is immediate, easily shown and 
obvious. Using radioactive and toxic depleted-uranium weapons is an additional 
crime that has an insidious long-term effect, not only on combatants and 
civilians in the vicinity, but over a broad area and to the general 
environment, as has been shown by the Pentagon’s massive use of DU weapons in 
Yugoslavia and especially in Iraq .”[12] 

“We know that Israel is DU-armed and capable, and shielding on Israeli tanks is 
DU-reinforced.... U.S. arms make up the major part of the Israeli arsenal and 
Israel has been the number one recipient of U.S. arms aid for decades. These 
U.S. weapons include the M1 Abrams tank—which fires DU shells and is armored 
with DU-reinforced metal. The “Apache” and the Cobra helicopter gun ships are 
also equipped to fire DU shells. Since this latest Intifada started, the U.S. 
has shipped Israel ‘the newest and most advanced multi-mission attack 
helicopters in the U.S. inventory,’ as reported in the Jerusalem Post. These 
were Apache helicopters.” [13] 

The IAC delegation, after collecting shell casings and metal fragments from 
areas that had been bombed in Ramallah, were stopped and interrogated by 
Israeli officials at the Ben Gurion airport and the items collected were 
confiscated. “While this prevented the IAC from arranging its own tests, it 
made them even more suspicious that the Israeli forces were using DU shells and 
trying to hide it,” the organization said. 

“Whether from shells or from the scrapings from tanks moving around the 
countryside, radioactive materials enter into the land, the water and the whole 
food chain, contaminating the densely populated West Bank and Gaza, where water 
is a scarce resource. Wanton radioactive contamination of this region is a 
crime against all of humanity and a threat to the entire region now and for 
generations to come. 

“According to the LAKA Foundation in the Netherlands , the Israeli army first 
used depleted-uranium weapons in the 1973 war, under direction from U.S. 

“The … 1995 report from the U.S. Army Environmental Policy Institute … asserts 
that Israel is one of the countries with DU munitions in its arsenal.” [14]

The organization also said that Israel has a nuclear weapons program more 
developed than that of any country except the five major nuclear powers. “For 
exposing this nuclear program, Mordechai Vanunu, a nuclear-weapons technician, 
was kidnapped by the Mossad and held in solitary confinement 14 years,” the 
organization said. 

“Given Israel ’s own nuclear program and well-developed military industry, the 
likelihood is that Israel is a manufacturer of DU ammunition. The firm Rafael 
of Israel is named in numerous reports as being such a manufacturer. But even 
if this were not the case, Israel has been able to import DU weapons from the 
United States ,” it added. 

And Finally…
There are just a few questions that badly need to be posed here…

The whole logic about having the U.S. say that it’s all right for some 
countries to keep their WMDs and not the rest of the world is because they are 
a ‘democracy’ and can be trusted. How different is the current ‘democratic’ 
regime in the U.S. from the ‘dictatorships’ it seeks to uproot in the Middle 
East ? Are they really responsible enough to have WMDs, including but not 
limited to DU, in their possession?

Yet, Bush, who is supposedly a former member of the ‘Skulls and Bones’ secret 
society at Yale University, rules this democracy, and so was his father. There 
was even a movie made about it. Could it be that their sadistic aim is to 
reduce the world to just that… skulls and bones?[15]

Ten years after the damage was done in Iraq , former U.S. attorney general 
Ramsey Clark went with a multi-national delegation to Baghdad in 2001, 
to ‘investigate’ DU impact used in the 1991 war.

"Our government [ U.S. ] is responsible for enormous suffering in Iraq and 
should be made to pay for the cleanup and care of the population," he said at 
the time.[16] Perhaps in the year 2003, there was a phone call to the White 
House that Clark should have made. Then again, perhaps he did.



[1] Report Says U.S. Forces Used Depleted Uranium in Afghan War 

[2] Ibid.

[3] UNEP outlines strategy for protecting people and the environment in post-
war Iraq http://www.unep.org/Documents/Default.asp?DocumentID=309&ArticleID=3965

[4] Ibid.

[5] Royal Society calls on coalition forces to reveal where DU has been used in 
Iraq http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/templates/press/showpresspage.cfm?file=445.txt

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Depleted Uranium http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/du/#metal

[9] Depleted uranium might damage kidneys of some soldiers 

[10] Gulf Troops Face Tests For Cancer 

[11] Is the Israeli military using depleted Uranium against the Palestinians? 

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid.

[15] EXTRA: Banging ‘Skulls’ http://www.hollywood.com/news/detail/article/312131

[16] Former U.S. Official In Iraq To Investigate Depleted Uranium 


* Lamya Tawfik is a Cairo-based freelancer. She is currently preparing her 
master’s degree in Mass Communication with a specialization in Children’s Media 
Education at the American University in Cairo . She has previously worked as a 
news editor at IslamOnline.net and as a journalist and public relations 
specialist in Dubai , UAE. You can reach her at lamyatawfik@islam-online.net


Depleted Uranium
What is 'Depleted Uranium'
Dutch page
Vision Foundation