In april 2003, the United Nations environment programme (UNEP) published a Desk Study on the Environment in Iraq, which outlined the environmental vulnerabilities resulting from years of conflict in the country, the low priority given to environment by the previous regime, and the unintended environmental effects of international economic sanctions in the 1990s. One of the issues identified in the study was the impact of the use of depleted uranium (DU) during the conflict. the report accordingly recommended that a comprehensive field assessment be conducted in Iraq to investigate the use of DU and its residual impacts.
Following a formal request for such an assessment from the Iraqi Minister for environment H.e. Mishkat Moumin in august 2004, UNEP - in association with the World Health Organization (WHO) - submitted a proposal to the UNDG Iraq trust Fund during the autumn. the proposal was not approved, but UNEP carried on with a scaled-down plan of work, thanks to funding from the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID).
UNEP's original plan called for the deployment of international experts to Iraq to conduct the investigation. However in June 2005, due to the continuously deteriorating security situation, UNEP decided instead to train and equip national experts from the radiation protection Centre (rpC) of the Iraqi Ministry of environment (Moen) to undertake the expert DU assessment locally.
This report focuses on the various capacity-building activities carried out by UNEP to ensure good quality procedures during the local expert DU assessment and subsequent fieldwork. a second report presenting the findings and conclusions of the fieldwork will be published in 2007.
1.1 Depleted uranium in Iraq
The 1991 Gulf war is reportedly the first conflict in which depleted uranium ammunition was used on a large military scale. Overall, 50 metric tonnes of DU were fired during tank battles and 250 tonnes in air to ground attacks.
The total amount of DU ammunition used during the conflict in 2003 is still unknown, but speculative figures from various studies range between 170 and 1,700 metric tonnes. The United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (UK MOD) has indicated that less than one tonne of DU ammunition during the 1991 Gulf war, and approximately 1.9 tonnes in the 2003 Iraq war. ammunition was fired exclusively from tanks, as airplanes were not used by the UK in either conflict.
While it has not disclosed where such ammunition was used in the 1991 conflict, the UK MOD provided UNEP in June 2003 with the coordinates of DU firing points for UK Challenger II tanks in the 2003 Iraq conflict. the United States government has to date not released information to UNEP on DU target coordinates for the 1991 and 2003 wars.