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  April 7, 2016

U.S. Radioactive Weapons Fueling Birth Defects in Iraq

Investigative journalist Barbara Koeppel examines how the U.S. is getting away with using radioactive weapons that are causing spikes in birth defects and cancer in both Iraqi citizens and U.S. veterans
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U.S. Radioactive Weapons Fueling Birth Defects in IraqJESSICA DESVARIEUX: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

A new investigative report titled, Irradiated Iraq: The Nuclear Nightmare We Left Behind, looks at the U.S. legacy of deadly radiation in Iraq. This exposé writer Barbara Koeppel studies how America's use of Uranium missiles and explosives has negatively affected the health of veterans as well as Iraqis. With dramatic increases of cases of leukemia and breast cancer, as well as an increase in infant mortality.

Joining us now in our Baltimore studio to talk about her piece is Barbara Koeppel, she's a Washington D.C. based investigative reporter. Thank you so much for joining us Barbara.

BARBARA KOEPPEL: Thank you for having me.

DESVARIEUX: So Barbara, first people are going to think Nuclear weapons comes to mind when we think about radioactive weapons. Not these Uranium weapons that you described that are technically conventional weapons is that right?

KOEPPEL: Right, which is how they get away with it because they're not called nuclear. However, they are radioactive because they contain uranium and uranium is a radioactive element. They also contain very toxic chemicals and so in theory they are not nuclear but they are radioactive because of the uranium concentrations and they have the same effect. They create birth defects, the way you had after Chernobyl. They create all sorts of leukemia's as you said. But huge amounts not just a little bit but spikes.

DESVARIEUX: Let's talk about some of those numbers. What did you actually end up finding out?

KOEPPEL: Well based on studies that local doctors did or hospital records. The first, as you know we invaded Iraq twice or we had 2 wars with Iraq. The first one was less of an invasion and it was more bombing and blowing up weapons sites; that was Desert Storm in 1991. And by 1998 the hospital records showed in the city of Basra that you went from something like 40 cases of birth defects to by 2000, 350 which is enormous. And leukemia's also mushroomed. So that you have these dreadful health defects and some of the veterans families have some of them too. If they weren't there, living there, they would come in and out for one year and still got very sick.

But back to '91. So they used what they admitted to, they used weapons that were made, bunker busting bombs and missiles that were called made with depleted uranium. They liked this a lot because you get very high heats and it just blows stuff up immediately. But it leaves behind uranium oxide dusts. Because it incinerates at such a high temperature it creates microscopic dust particles. It's called uranium oxide dust. That flowed through the air for miles and miles, that when you breathe them in they get lodged in your lungs. They don't get eliminated through your body because they're particles, dust particles. And from the lungs it's an easy trip into the lymph system, the blood system, which carries them to all parts of the body to all your cells. Then because they are radioactive it mutates them. The same way after we dropped the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and you had generations of deformed children just over and over again. You can't get rid of it. Once a gene or a chromosome is radiated and mutated it's that way until you stop having children.

DESVARIEUX: I want to get a sense of what the response has been from the United States government as well as the Iraqi government. Let's first start with the U.S. Do they know that this is what is happening to Iraqis?

KOEPPEL: Well yes, but they don't want to admit it for all the obvious reasons, the liability would be the most important one. They don't admit it to the veterans. In fact, on their websites they say, not one known cancer has been caused by the uranium weapons. And they stick to the line that they've only used what's called depleted uranium. In fact they've used other forms, undepleted and slightly enriched. But if they just say because it's known and it's international outrage of their use and Britain's use; the coalition, of depleted uranium. They say well we just use a little bit of it and they don't respond to freedom of information requests to say how much or where.

The Dutch wanted to find out because their troops were exposed. So they told them how much and where and then a peace group found out and they made that public. But that's just a small portion.

DESVARIEUX: Do you know what that actually was? The amount of uranium?

KOEPPEL: Yes, but I can't tell you right now. And it varied from place to place.


KOEPPEL: Because it wasn't one amount everywhere. But they used it because it's the strongest weapon you can have. The strongest missile. It could fight, in '91 there were tank battles in the deserts of Iraq. And they could just blast through the tanks. But of course that produced the dust that I was talking about. It would float for miles and miles. But they prized that because you could just, nothing was as strong that could pierce the armor the way that weapons made with uranium and they did admit to using depleted uranium weapons. They don't admit to the others by the way.


KOEPPEL: But it's used because it's so powerful. More powerful than any other weapon.

DESVARIEUX: Alright, so if we have the United States denying using other forms of uranium in their weapons..

KOEPPEL: Or as much depleted uranium as they actually use.

DESVARIEUX: Exactly. So now then could we push back on this? Did you find out any information that would actually push back on that thesis?

KOEPPEL: Well all the people, the hospital records that some people have accumulated that they've gone and put together because the U.S. won't fund even the researchers have asked for it, they won't fund any research to corroborate this. But people who have gone to the hospitals as in this town, the city of Basra in Iraq. So they had the number of birth defects a year before '91 which is something like 37. And then by '98 there were 305. That's from hospital records that have been verified by legitimate researchers. So you know if it walks like a duck, it is a duck. Here you've got all of these birth defects and then when we went. Do you want to stick with '91 or do you want to go when we invaded Iraq in 2003?

DESVARIEUX: Yea let's talk about that, 2003. What did we find?

KOEPPEL: So we now invade Iraq and the numbers which had already spiked took another huge leap. So that by 2008 one interesting number, I hate to just delude you with numbers because they can get confusing. But there was something like 40 cancers out of 100 thousand population. By 2005 or 2008 it was up to 16 hundred new cancers. Again a 38% increase in leukemia, a 10% increase in breast cancer. It had an infant mortality rate that was 8 times higher than it's neighbor Kuwait. So you have these numbers, one scientist took samples of the women who had, usually the children die at birth because they're so badly deformed. They have one eye in the center of their head or their brains are inside out or their stomachs are inside out or they have no hands and feet. I mean they're really grotesque and they don't tend to live but a few hours or a few days. The researchers have studied that and they put together the numbers. But the U.S. doesn't admit to that.

DESVARIEUX: What about the Iraqi government? I'm sure they're being..

KOEPPEL: It's very interesting that you ask that. They did study around 2009 remember we invaded in 2003. And basically the last of the troops or most of the last of the troops left in 2011. And in 2009 because they were getting so much flack; they did a study that proved that not only did they not have an increase in birth defects, and leukemia, and general cancers. They had less than developed countries. But they didn't use hospital records. They only did a door to door survey and ask people do you have cancer or something like that. And you have to say well, why? Oh and then the Lancet, which is a very highly respected British medical journal, wrote an editorial or maybe some people wrote an article, saying we think you need to revisit these numbers. And the WHO also concurred, that's the World Health Organization. So you have to ask yourself, why would the Iraq Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization which people respect a lot, why would they have concurred?

Well Iraq gets most of it's money from the United States and as long as it depends on the United States for it's budget they're not going to put out information that the United States doesn't want out. Similarly WHO, all UN agencies get the biggest part of their budget from the U.S. Even though it doesn't pay what it's suppose to pay. It still is the largest part of their budget. So it's pretty clear why they take these lines. The Lancet said, do another study, this is really crazy. These numbers make no sense.

DESVARIEUX: And then like you said they can't actually do real testing because they're not actually doing real funding so you're sort of caught in this caught 22. We have all this evidence that there's smoke but no one really wants go investigate if there's a fire. You're saying that we certainly need to be questioning this more.

KOEPPEL: And their websites keep putting out the lie that there's not one cancer or that there were also burn pits. For those that don't know what a burn pit is, when the U.S. invaded and they got thousands and thousands of service people there, they have to put them somewhere. So they have bases. Some can be as small as 20 men or women. Some can have 90 thousand. How do you dispose of your waste? You have to dig a big hole in the ground and they're called burn pits. They dump everything. Whether it's human waste, plastic bottles, which when they're burned that's illegal by the way according to U.S. policy but they burn them anyway. That produce dioxin which is the main ingredient in Agent Orange.

They burn these round the clock. They put in unexploded weapons, hospital waste, batteries, lithium batteries, everything. Which is incredibly toxic. So our troops who were stationed usually for a year, a term would be. They would breathing this and some of them got and are terribly sick right now. But the Iraqis were breathing them for years and years and years not one year terms are even sicker. The wife of one, a captain who breathed in the smoke from the burn pits, started an organization called; I'm confessing there might be another word in there, to get support for these veterans.

DESVARIEUX: I was going to say that. Is there anything on the side of the Iraqis? Is there any sort of legal remedies for them?


DESVARIEUX: Nothing is going on to..

KOEPPEL: No, no, zero. And even for the Americans, some of the veterans have launched a suit. But they're, I don't know, this is probably going to take 10 years through the courts. But even there the U.S. didn't want to admit it because when this woman's husband Captain Torres came back and couldn't breathe the VA diagnosed him with some unknown problem. Then more and more of his other soldiers and marines had the same problem. So the DOD sent 200 of them to Vanderbilt University Medical School and the head of the pulmonary division biopsied them which the VA didn't do, they just X-rayed them. I spoke to Dr. Miller who said we biopsied them and we saw this very debilitating lung disease which is only going to get worse and worse. And he stopped getting veterans and DOD, the Defense Department and the VA stopped sending him veterans to study because they were very unhappy that he biopsied them. Because he said you can't see it unless you biopsied their lungs. So there are all these people that are terribly sick but the DOD, the Defense Department, the VA doesn't want to admit it.

DESVARIEUX: And why don't they want to admit it?

KOEPPEL: Well liability. If you admitted that you exposed 200 thousand troops to this you can imagine what the liability would be.

DESVARIEUX: And what would the liability be for places like Raytheon or Lockheed Martin.

KOEPPEL: I don't know it's a good question. Because they're the ones, Raytheon has a patent for uranium. For weapons where uranium is an option. That patent's been around for maybe 15 years and one other corporation too. But they don't say that they're in these weapons. They just say no, no they're conventional but in fact they are radioactive.

And have the same effects that you have from Chernobyl when the reactors blew. Or that you have from Hiroshima, you know you just keep getting generation after generation of mutated genes and mutated children and adults. But the dust maybe has settled. So there's perhaps not as much dust now. But for the people that were living there, in the 2000's, it's in their lungs, it's in their bodies.

DESVARIEUX: Yea and for generations as you said.

KOEPPEL: It doesn't wear out, ever. Never. Once a gene is mutated, it's mutated.

DESVARIEUX: Barbara, really, really fascinating investigative report. Thank you so much for joining us in Studio.

KOEPPEL: Thank you very much for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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