US forces fired depleted uranium (DU) weapons at civilian areas and troops in Iraq in breach of official advice meant to prevent “unnecessary suffering” in conflicts, says a new report.
Coordinates revealing where US jets and tanks fired nearly 10,000 DU rounds in Iraq during the war in 2003 have been obtained by the Dutch peace group, PAX. This is the first time that any US DU firing coordinates have been released, despite previous requests by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Iraqi government.
According to PAX’s report, the new data show that many of the DU rounds were fired in or near populated areas of Iraq, including As Samawah, Nasiriyah and Basrah. At least 1,500 rounds were also aimed at troops, the group says.
This conflicts with legal advice from the US Air Force in 1975 suggesting that DU weapons should only be used against hard targets like tanks and armoured vehicles, the report says. This advice, designed to comply with international law by minimising deaths and injuries to urban populations and troops, was “largely ignored” by US forces, it argues.
A six-page memo by Major James Miles and Will Carroll from the international law division of USAF’s Office of the Judge Advocate General concluded in March 1975 that DU weapons would be legal. But it recommended imposing restrictions on how they were used.
“Use of this munition solely against personnel is prohibited if alternative weapons are available,” the memo suggested. This was for legal reasons “related to the prohibitions against unnecessary suffering and poison”.