MP H. van Bommel: The Netherlands must assist in cleaning Iraq of the remnants of depleted uranium ammunition

14 June 2009

MP H. van Bommel: The Netherlands must assist in cleaning Iraq of the remnants of depleted uranium ammunition

According to MP Harry van Bommel from the Socialist Party of the Netherlands, the international community has a duty towards Iraq to help with cleaning up the remnants of depleted uranium ammunition in the country. 'Otherwise, the people of Iraq will suffer twice: first from the dictator Saddam Hussein and the way in which war against Iraq. That is unacceptable.' said Van Bommel.

by Saieb Khalil

Khalil:- The Netherlands is known as one of the very few countries, along with Israel, America, England and France, and the Czech Republic that oppose a ban on munitions containing depleted uranium. These countries also oppose research into the effects of its use. How do you think the people of these countries look at the matter?

Harry van BommelVan Bommel:- If people knew more about it, they would be outraged. There is an urgent need for more attention to this criminal weapon. I hope that more media attention will be given to it, and wherever possible, I will do my best to achieve this end.

How should we view the contamination from depleted uranium, in the overall picture of pollution in the world?

Pollution by depleted uranium is about the most devastating pollution that you can imagine. It is not a byproduct of industrial processes but of political and military choices. I prefer to look at it as a separate problem that requires a separate special solution, and as soon as possible.

It is a danger that is sometimes compared to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Do you think this comparison is right?. Can we describe it as an "underground Hiroshima?”

You can surely do that. Remember that great numbers of these munitions lay in the sand of the desert. Later there may be clouds of dangerous particles that move in the direction of populated areas. Because of this, large areas will become uninhabitable for humans. The worst thing is that you cannot see the danger. The moment you notice that something is wrong, it will be too late.

According to reports, one in eight people in Basrah is ill with cancer. In Naseriah it's as high as one in seven. How do you evaluate that?

The crime of the use of ammunition with depleted uranium is that it keeps claiming victims even years after the war is ended. It even affects the reproductive organs and transfers illness to following generations. These munitions should be banned in the same way as there was a ban on landmines and cluster bombs. Furthermore, there should be more research and support for the victims of depleted uranium ammunition.

One of the reasons given by the U.S. and allies for the war was the liberation of the Iraqi people from the dictatorship. Now comes a new kind of monster that will probably claim more lives, and will persist longer than any dictatorship in history. How do you see that?

You are absolutely right, and we should not let that happen. I will make every effort to prevent this problem gets forgotten. We owe it to all the victims and their families.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is against launching an intensive investigation into depleted uranium, as are the U.S., Israel and other countries. Why?

Countries that still use these munitions don’t want be held responsible for any of their consequences. That may result in mega-claims. The WHO is a playing ball of the large countries including America. It is a shame that a health problem of this magnitude has not been extensively and lengthily examined. This is not just an Iraqi or American problem. This is a world problem, and the WHO was established for such purposes, wasn’t it?

In the year 2000, you made your first visit to Iraq, and visited children's hospitals. What did you find there?

The images I saw were horrible. I found young children severely affected by leukemia, presumably as a result of exposure to radiation. I found doctors suffering a shortage of many kinds of equipment as a result of the boycott and there was a lack of medicines. There was a shortage of everything. The hospitals were also understaffed. Parents had to help the hospital to take care of the children.

Do you think that the countries responsible for the depleted uranium ammunition are responsible for removing it?

Certainly! Maybe not in the legal sense, but surely in the moral sense. The Netherlands has also helped with the clearance of mines in areas where we ourselves have had no war. If we want countries to be able to develop after a war, it is a moral obligation to help them. In the SP (Socialist Party), we always support such projects. In Iraq, the international community has much work to do.

Do you think the Iraqi people have the right to see their country cleaned up?

Yes, and I think this is the duty of the international community. I was against the war and I am against the use of ammunition with depleted uranium. However, I think the Netherlands should contribute to cleaning up the mess. The population of Iraq is otherwise twice the victim. First of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and later of how the war was conducted. That is unacceptable.

President Obama has won the elections with the promise of "change". Can we expect a lot from him?

I think so. Obama wants a different policy for the Middle East. He looks closer and also dares voice criticism of Israel. He is really a very different president from George Bush. My expectation of his foreign policy is high. I think many ordinary people in the Middle East have positive expectations of this new American president.

Preparations are being made for a strategic partnership agreement between Iraq and the EU. Can this help Iraq to tackle the problem of depleted uranium?

I think so. I believe there is no text for the contract yet, but if it comes, I will devote much attention to this issue. I will also ask our people in the European Parliament to look at the problem carefully. In such an agreement there can be agreed upon research into the effects and the removal of the remnants of these munitions. In any case, the agreement can contain a statement of intent. I shall strongly support it.

The SP has often played a special role in the fight against companies and governments who behave irresponsibly. Can you tell us something about similar situations in the past?

The SP was in a battle for more than twenty years, in and outside parliament to achieve a ban on the use of carcinogenic asbestos. Now it may no longer be used and there is a fund for the victims of it. Also we are leading in the fight for the elimination of cluster weapons. These weapons claim also many victims in the aftermath of wars because many of these bombs do not explode and later when picked up by children playing, they explode. Cluster weapons are child-killers. This also applies to ammunition with depleted uranium. Their use is immoral

Finally, you have been more than ten years in the Parliament, with much international experience. What is your advice to the parliament members in Iraq?

Close alliances with parliamentarians worldwide. Start using the Internet with a group 'Parliamentarians against Depleted Uranium'. Make only two demands: a global ban on the use of ammunition with depleted uranium and the removal of all debris remaining in the ground in countries like Iraq and other countries in post-conflict situations. Demand that the UN make funds available for this. I am available to help this cause here in the Netherlands.

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