Saturday, 19 March 2016

Chemical War: The Ties That Bind

Few countries in the Middle East have experienced the same level of chemical attacks as the Iraqi people. Starting in the 1920s, which saw the first ever gassing of the Kurds by the British, for nearly one hundred years, every generation has grown up under the shadow of chemical weapons. 

Vivid descriptions have been given, by Iraqi and Iranian Veterans, of their exposure to chemical weapons in the Iran/Iraq war, and the various neurological impacts, while bearing witness to the changing colour of the sky and skin, which came with years of bombardments. 

Medical experts in the Kurdish village of Halabja are still dealing with the breathing difficulties and disabilities which have arisen among survivors of that fateful day in the late 1980’s, when planes flew over the village and gassed an estimated 5.000 people. 

During the First Gulf War of the 1990s, the Iraqi people once again witnessed the first hand impact of chemicals, where the combination of burning oil fields, depleted uranium, along with a host of other toxins being spewed into the environment, led to it being classified as the “most toxic war in modern history”. 

People involved with Iraq during the 1990s witnessed a dramatic increase in birth defects in the areas most heavily bombed by the UN sanctioned “Desert Storm”, with rates of cancer souring beyond pre-war levels and Gulf War Illness/Syndrome still being an unexplained medical condition amongst Western service personnel. 

According to Iraqi government statistics, prior to the outbreak of the First Gulf War the rate of cancer cases in Iraq was 40 out of 100,000 people. By 1995, it had increased to 800 out of 100,000 people, and by 2005, it had doubled to at least 1,600 out of 100,000 people. Current estimates show the increasing trend continuing. 

John Pilger recalled a 1999 visit to Iraq in which he spoke with paediatrician Dr Ginan Ghalib Hassen, who described the many children she was treating with neuroblastoma. "Before the war, we saw only one case of this unusual tumour in two years, Now we have many cases, mostly with no family history. I have studied what happened in Hiroshima. The sudden increase of such congenital malformations is the same." 

According to acclaimed journalist Dahr Jamil, the US and British military used more than 1,700 tons of depleted uranium in Iraq in the 2003 invasion -- on top of the disputed figure of up to 900 tons in the 1991 Gulf War. In context, the UK Atomic Energy Authority warned the British Government, “that if 50 tons of the residual dust (from Depleted Uranium) was left in the region, an estimated half a million excess cancer deaths, would result by the year 2000”. 

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent US/UK occupation, chemical weapons were once again inflicted upon the Iraqi people, which included the use of white phosphorous against civilian populations in areas like Fallujah. The Iraqi section of Al-Qaeda, which has since re branded itself 'The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant', for its involvement in the Syria uprising, were also the first branch of Al-Qaeda to start using chemical weapons. 

Between October 2006 and June 2007, Iraq experienced fifteen chlorine bomb attacks. According to the US Defence Department, the first documented case was in Ramadi, where terrorists detonated a car packed with 12 120 mm mortar shells and two 100-pound chlorine tanks. 

Chlorine attacks also occurred in Fallujah, Balad and again in Ramadi, with a later attack against Forward Operating Base Warhorse, in Diyala, where a car bomber detonated two tanks of chlorine and 1,000 pounds of explosives, with the chlorine alone causing an adverse reaction to over 65 US service members alone. 

In June 2013, the Iraqi Army shut down three Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant bomb factories and seized chemicals which were designated for chemical attacks in neighbouring Syria. Among the ingredients found in the bomb factories, were those for Sarin.

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