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The deterioration of environmental and life quality parameters in Iraq since the 2003 American occupation of Iraq

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The environment and overall life quality indicators found in Iraq have suffered a great deal of degradation since the 2003 Anglo-American occupation. The invading armed forces used varying conventional and unconventional illegal weapons, such as Napalm, cluster bombs, white phosphorous, microwave and Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions against the human population and the environment. DU is a by-product, or the radioactive waste, usually generated from the uranium enrichment process to produce spent fuel for the nuclear reactors. DU is a radioactive and toxic substance that imposes serious health hazards to human beings as will be explained in the other section of this article. The use of such weaponry and the destruction of infrastructure (i.e., portable water, electricity, the health care system, and the lack of security) have led to an estimated death toll of more than one million people since 2003 and the numbers continue to rise. Radioactive ‘DU’ was deployed during the invasion in crowded, heavily populated cities, such as Baghdad, Ramadi and Fallujah. It was also used in areas in southern Iraq like Basra, where it was deployed in 1991. Published scientific studies and evidence indicate that ‘DU’-related radioactive contamination increases the risk and incidence of cancer, congenital birth defects, and other diseases. Medical records and epidemiological studies in Iraq have proven that the use of DU led to the multifold increase of cancer and congenital birth defects. Collapse of environmental protection systems immediately after the invasion exposed the population and ecology to dangerous risk levels that have been a threat to people’s health, livelihood and security. It has also resulted in inefficiency in the performance of the new environmental protection staff members, along with corruption, a lack of transparency, as well as the other related obstacles that have been preventing the implementation of any effective actions that might lead to resolving environmental problems over the last thirteen years. Today, Iraq is suffering from critical environmental issues that need to be urgently resolved – issues such as the scarcity of potable water, desertification and land degradation, air pollution including dust storms with toxic metals, sites contaminated with hazardous waste, and impairment of the natural flow of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Additionally, the construction and operation of the Keban and Atatürk dams in Turkey during the last three decades has contained annual flooding downstream and prevented the river’s large discharges from reaching Iraq. This, with other GAP waterway projects in Turkey, are the real reason behind the gradual drying up of the Iraqi marshlands in addition to water quantity and quality problems. These add to the challenges facing environmental protection efforts, beyond the DU contamination issue. In this article, many different aspects of environmental deterioration found in Iraq will be identified and analysed, with their impacts on the quality of Iraqi life parameters presented, with emphasis on the issue of contamination by DU.
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Keywords: depleted uranium; desertification; environmental degradation; marshland; toxic dust; water scarcity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Canadian University in Dubai

Publication date: 01 March 2016

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  • The International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies is a new peer-reviewed, tri- annual, academic publication devoted to the study of modern Iraq. In recognition of Iraq's increasingly important position on the world stage, the time is right for a new journal dedicated to scholarly engagement with the country.
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