Sophia's Peace Work

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Environmental Effects of the 2003 Iraq War

I'm often asked for information on how the 2003 war in Iraq affected the environment in the country.  War is never good for the environment for many, often obvious, reasons but the sub-text to this question is how has the United States been responsible for polluting Iraq.  I'm never sure how to really answer such a question.  For the past 8 years I've been working in Iraq on environmental issues in the country but we did not really get involved in environmental issues related to the last war ... at least not directly.  Not because such issues are not important but as summed up by our CEO's at the time ... 
Iraq has so many environmental problems that have been ignored for decades that it would be difficult to decipher the causal link between these problems and any one smoking gun ... be it the American-led invasion or the overall background toxic soup that Iraq is swimming in.

This toxic soup has been caused by municipal pollution (garbage and sewage), toxic dumping to land, air and water from the oil sector, deteriorating infrastructure, lack of environmental awareness, and of course many previous regional wars and conflicts (some involving extensive toxic chemical attacks). 

As an American, I was initially interested in the depleted uranium issue because my own country makes this type of munitions from waste produced from the uranium refinement process.  In the U.S., I lived not far from a naval magazine where such munitions were stored and they were regularly tested off the coast of the United States by the U.S. Navy. These types of 'low-level radioactive' munitions are well suited to warfare not because of their radioactive properties but because they are dense heavy metals that have the ability to pierce armor plating.  Yet there are many claims that this munitions, once used, have a long toxic legacy in the environment and for human health. 

And I simply think there is a difference in a country polluting itself vs. one country (the U.S.) spreading its toxic wastes over another country (Iraq).  It still warrants further investigation and there have been some interesting and controversial writings on the subject. For example see the Lancet Journal from 2013 "Questions raised over Iraq congenital birth defects study".

The United Nations Environmental Programme did some initial reports on the environment in Iraq back in 2003. This UNEP Desk Study on the Environment in Iraq covers some of the main impacts of previous wars that have affected the country and the risks and impacts to the war in 2003, as well as looking at the more systemic environmental problems in the country.

There is certainly a need to look more closely into the environmental consequences of the 2003 war as well as any conflict really.  I'm in favor of anything that makes people think twice before jumping on the bandwagon that takes us to war.


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