Monthly Archives: October 2002

Environmental and health consequences of the Gulf War

Green Delaware Alert 169

Environmental and health consequences of the Gulf War

Does the world need another one?

October 1, 2002. President George Bush is demanding from the U.S. Congress
what amounts to a blank-check declaration of war to put in his pocket for
use when and how he pleases. He says the US needs to start a war with Iraq
to prevent Iraq from developing weapons like the US has.

But from the Washington Times for September 27, 2002:

“The International Atomic Energy Agency says that a report cited by
President Bush as evidence that Iraq in 1998 was “six months away” from
developing a nuclear weapon does not exist.

In a Sept. 7 news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr.
Bush said: ‘I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into
Iraq and were denied finally denied access [in 1998], a report came out of
the Atomic the IAEA that they were six months away from
developing a weapon.’

“I don’t know what more evidence we need,” said the president, defending
his administration’s case that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was building
weapons of mass
destruction.” (

How about some evidence that actually exists, Mr. President?

Probably no human activity, in the short run, causes as much harm to the
environment and human health as war. Consider some of the consequences of
the last Gulf War (“Desert Storm”) of 1991, put on by the father of the
current President:

While few American soldiers were killed directly (officially 148 were
killed and 467 wounded, plus 121 additional deaths in “nonhostile actions,”
mostly vehicle accidents.) thousands have subsequently died or are
suffering long term health effects from exposure to “depleted” uranium
(used in anti-armor projectiles), chemical weapons, unfamiliar infectious
agents, and so on. (About 27 British and French soldiers also died.)

The renowned anti-nuclear activist and scientist Helen Caldicott has written:

“For many years the United States has been using depleted uranium, a
byproduct from the production of enriched fuel for nuclear reactors and
weapons, to manufacture shells, bullets and protective armour of tanks.
This excess uranium, composed mainly of the uranium isotope U238
is called “depleted” because it has a lower than normal content of the
isotope U235, the fissionable material. But it has one very “excellent”
property: it is extremely dense [1.7 times as dense as lead] and capable of
penetrating heavily armored vehicles. This capability was ably demonstrated
in the Gulf massacre of 1991. “Massacre” describes what happened better
than “war.”

“But another physical property, which is not so desirable, is that depleted
uranium spontaneously burns on impact, creating tiny aerosolized particles
less than five microns in diameter, small enough to be inhaled. At least
seventy percent of the uranium in these weapons is released in this form on
impact, and these tiny particles travel long distances when airborne.”

According to the Pentagon, “A total of 320 tons (290,300 kilograms)
[640,000 pounds] of DU projectiles were fired by the U.S. during the Gulf
War” (

From a Veteran’s Administration report as cited by the Traprock Peace
Center (

“As of May 2002: 696,778 individuals had served during the Gulf War with
572,833 individuals now eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs
benefits. … As of May 2002, 206,861 veterans had filed claims for
benefits based on service connected injuries and illnesses caused by Gulf
War combat related duties. Department of Veterans Affairs officials have
processed 183,249 claims for medical care, compensation, and pension,
determining that for 159,238 veterans their injuries and illnesses are
service connected, caused by Gulf War exposures and injuries. Consequently
they have been awarded lifetime medical care, compensation, and pensions
based on the extent of their medical problems. The VA still has claims
from 23,612 individuals pending while they have denied benefits to 24,011


Iraq put its losses at 75,000 to 100,000 soldiers killed in action and
35,000 to 45,000 civilians killed by allied bombing. (US estimates of
Iraqi military losses were around 100,000 killed and 300,000 wounded, but
there seems to be considerable uncertainty about Iraqi losses.) Hundreds
of thousands of Iraqis (many children) have since died since for lack of
sanitation, nutrition, and health care, and due to cancer and other
diseases caused by the war.

And what about the “natural” environment? From “One
of the greatest ecological disasters in history happened when Saddam
Hussein used oil as a weapon in the Gulf War. The environmental attack came
in two parts: the release of oil into the Gulf, and the burning of Kuwait’s
oil wells.”

“Estimates of oil released [into the Gulf] range from 0.5 million to 11
million barrels, and average at about 6 million barrels. Compare this with
the tremendous consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which was ‘only’
230,000 barrels. The oil formed a slick 30 miles long and 8 miles wide,
which is about the same area as the Isle of Wight. The slick is thought to
have killed between 15,000 and 30,000 birds.”

“Although the burning of Kuwait’s oil wells … may have been intended as
an economic weapon, the environmental conseqences were no less severe than
those of the oil slick. It is estimated that about 67 million tonnes of oil
were burned in total, which produced about 2.1 million tonnes of soot and 2
million tonnes of sulphur, one of the main causes of acid rain. … the
World Health Organisation esimated that death rates in Kuwait rose by 10%
over the following year because of associated breathing difficulties and
skin problems.”

And what of the other “domestic” effects of war? These include curtailment
of civil liberties, manipulation of the media by the military, and
disregard for environmental and other laws. Bush and his people have
already demonstrated their willingness to use any excuse to limit
environmental protections. For example, they have sought to exempt
military-related projects from environmental reviews under the National
Environmental Policy act (NEPA). All these evil tendencies will be greatly
accelerated if Bush is allowed to invade Iraq.

Commenting on the 1991 Gulf War,
( noted : “The decision to seek United Nations
involvement was part of a larger, more cynical strategy of the Bush
administration to circumvent Congress, to bypass the constitutional
authority of Congress and only Congress to declare war.”

Is there any reason to think another Gulf War would be any less disastrous
for all concerned than the last one? We will leave that question for the
reader to ponder.

We called the offices of Congressman Mike Castle, and Senators Biden and
Carper, to try to find out how they felt about Bush’s proposed war. We
only connected with Sean Barney of Sen. Carper’s office, who said Carper
supports the basic idea of war with Iraq but feels the Administration’s
proposed resolution is too broad. We get the impression that Biden and
Castle also support war. But there is opposition:

“In the House, perhaps 30 representatives are associated with a newly
formed antiwar coalition. They include Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), the leader
of the chamber’s progressive caucus and a major opposition voice; Barbara
Lee (Calif.), the only House member to oppose the congressional resolution
providing Bush with war powers last year; Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), who
characterized Bush’s plan as “naked aggression;” Jim McDermott (Wash.), who
thinks an attack on Iraq “has much more to do with oil than anything else;”
Bob Filner (Calif.), who says Bush is “leading us in the wrong direction;”
and Maurice Hinchey (N.Y.). … Kucinich announced formation of the
coalition at a press conference Sept. 20, telling reporters that
“unilateral military action by the United States against Iraq is
unjustified, unwarranted and illegal.” (Jack A. Smith, Oct. 1 issue of
the Mid-Hudson Activist Newsletter, published in New Paltz, N.Y., by the
Mid-Hudson National People’s Campaign/IAC,

What does the rest of the world think of Bush’s proposed war? Not
much. Many people seem to think his justifications for invading Iraq
resemble Hitler’s justifications for invading his neighbors. A recent
peace demonstration in Britain attracted as many as 400 thousand
people. (

Cost of such a war?

The National Priorities Project
( estimates that the war would
cost around $100 billion, not including cost of occupying or “rebuilding”
Iraq. almost all of which would be paid by US taxpayers (unlike the 1991
war, which was mostly paid for by others). Delaware’s estimated share is
$239 million.

ACTION: For those with an opinion about all this, there are many ways to
have your say:

Carper: 302.573.6291,

Biden: 302.573.6345, Milford 302.424.8090, (Note:
Biden, as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is in a strong
position to influence this issue. Biden was strongly criticized for some
sensible comments he made about the invasion of Afghanistan.)

Castle: 302.428.1902, Dover 302.736.1666, Georgetown 302.856.3334,

To send free faxes to your representatives in Congress (both House and
Senate) asking them to give United Nations Inspectors a chance or to learn
more just click this link