The Children of Iraq Are Living a Nuclear Nightmare
By Gar Smith / The-Edge
November 22, 2002

“The United States has conducted two nuclear wars. The first against Japan in 1943, the second in Kuwait and Iraq in 1991.” — Dr. Helen Caldicott.

Takashi Morizumi's book is available from Global Peacemakers Assn., PO Box 8867, Atlanta, CA 31106 (404) 898-0586.
Takashi Morizumi wasn’t sure he’d be allowed into the United States because his passport was stamped with so many entry marks from the Iraqi customs agents. Fortunately, this courageous Japanese photojournalist was allowed to visit the US in late October and, at a packed meeting at the Asia Resource Center in Oakland, California, he hosted a slideshow that gave his audience a stunning — and oft-times harrowing — view of life inside Iraq.

But the shock of Morizumi’s photos does not lie in revelations of domestic persecution or social privation at the hands of elected Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. The evil force that fills the most unsettling frames of Morizumi’s photos has its roots in America. That evil finds form in a legacy of twisted bodies, cancer-blistered faces and the silent screams of dying children — children who have come in contact with the residue of depleted uranium that US forces rained on Kuwait and Iraq during the Gulf War, 11 years ago.

Photojournalist Takashi Morizumi. Credit: Gar Smith / The-Edge
Morizumi’s photos of downtown Baghdad capture scenes that look surprising like the core of any large metropolis. Tall buildings festooned with commercial advertising and brand-names tower over crowds of shoppers and commuters shuffling between busy lanes of traffic. There are a few telling differences, however. The distinct dome of a mosque rises between the skyscrapers, signaling that the city lies in the Middle East. And the huge portraits of Saddam Hussein stretched across the facades of downtown high-rises testify that the city is, most definitely, Baghdad.

Morizumi noted with amusement that the portraits of Saddam are not deployed merely for self-aggrandizement. They are also functional.

“They tell you something about what goes on inside the building,” Morizumi discovered. If the building served the needs of farmers, there would be a huge picture showing Hussein working in the fields. If the high-rise hosted an office of the state telephone company, the portrait would show Hussein cradling a phone to his ear.

Asked his impression of the average citizen’s feeling toward Saddam (who is seldom seen in public), Morizumi stated that the Iraqi leader appears to be thought of as something like “a national “mascot.”

Bedouin nomades scavenge metal from tanks blasted with depleted uranium shells. The scrap is sold in the cities, spreading the contamination. Credit: Takashi Morizumi
A Land of Buried Terror
Despite his nonpartisan role as an independent photojournalist, Morizumi was not completely free to wander about and take photos. Outside the cities he frequently had to deal with security officers assigned to escort him or military personnel who tried to discourage his efforts.

He recalled one occasion when he spotted a Bedouin family off the side of the road. He bolted from his official car and began running into the desert to capture a photo. As he approached the family, the man suddenly pulled a sword from his side and began to brandish it in a threatening manner. At the same time, the Iraqi guards who had been escorting Morizumi’s vehicle began firing rifle shots over his head.

It was a good thing he reflexively froze in his tracks. As the Bedoins and guards soon explained, he had just run out into the middle of a minefield.

Despite this close brush with death, Morizumi continued to seek out people in poor villages and was overcome with their generosity as they welcomed him into their homes and treated him to meals of grain, small portions of meat and home-baked breads.

And a Land of Buried Children
But it was the memory of the children whose wide eyes and bright smiles surrounded him in cities and villages that stayed with him. And it was the memory of the other children that has haunted him — children confined to hospital beds with swollen limbs and distended bellies who looked out at the world through sunken eyes as the hair died and fell from their heads. These were the children dying from radiation poisoning — dying in extended agony in hospitals that had no pain-killing medicines because of US-imposed economic sanctions.

Every day outside the city’s children’s hospital, Morizumi watched as small wooden coffins were strapped to the roofs of vehicles that carried the small withered bodies away for burial. There are so many Iraqi children dying from cancer now that a special children’s cemetery had to be created to accommodate their remains.

In 1983, childhood cancers were virtually unknown in Iraq. Immediately after the end of the Gulf War, however, Iraq’s children started to die from cancers in the hundreds. Last year the toll topped 600 and the numbers have been rising steadily each year since the war ended. For the children of Iraq and the parents who grieve for them, the 1991 war has never ended.

Morizumi has made numerous return trips to Iraq to document the tragic toll of the US resort to nuclear warfare. Perhaps his saddest observation is the following: “Whenever I return, I am surprised on those rare occasions when I meet a sick child I met before who is still alive.” Sadly, most of the youngsters in Morizumi’s photos have since died.

The faces of these children — and the frozen-in-time record of their suffering — should be studied by every saber-rattling member of the White House and Pentagon and Senate and Congress.

Takashi Morizumi’s photos are now on exhibit across the US, thanks to an organizing effort by Japanese anti-nuclear activist Yumi Kuchki. Morizumi’s extraordinarily wrenching collection of images and recollections are also available in a 36-page booklet called A Different Nuclear War: Children of the Gulf War. The following essay and images are excerpted from this booklet.

Mothers with their sick children in the Mansool leukemia ward. Credit: Takashi Morizumi
A Different Nuclear War: Children of the Gulf War
By Takashi Morizumi

Eleven years after the Gulf War, destroyed Iraqi tanks still lie abandoned in the desert along the border of Iraq and Kuwait. Iraq’s economic activities, heavily dependent on imports, are virtually paralyzed. The people are exhausted, their lives a continual ordeal, and the main victims are the Iraqi children.

Even at large hospitals in Baghdad, medicines have vanished from pharmacy shelves. But the most alarming phenomenon is the enormous increase in deaths due to leukemia and other cancers. Doctors are overwhelmed with the number of severely ill patients. Deaths from cancer in Basra, the city in southern Iraq closet to the battlefields, increased from 34 in 1988 before the war to 219 five years later in 1996. Since the, they have continued to soar. In 2000, the figure was 586 deaths — a 17-fold increase!

Why is this happening? The most likely explanation is the depleted uranium munitions used by the multinational forces. Depleted uranium (DU) is a by-product of the manufacture of nuclear weapons and fuel for nuclear power reactors. Although it contains only a low level of uranium-235, which is required for nuclear fission, it does remain a radioactive substance.

The defense industry has developed a new type of armor-piercing shell, which is fired at high speed against the target. The impact generates intense heat and severe burning. Artillery penetrators and machine-gun bullets made of DU were first used in the Gulf War, a total quantity estimated at over 300 tons. The shell disintegrates into particles that permeate the air and soil and pollute the water. When this toxic metal penetrates the body or is ingested, the incidence of cancer, leukemia, liver and kidney disorders, tumors and birth defects is high.

The Gulf War introduced a new kind of “nuclear war.” In Bosnia and Kosovo, DU was also left behind. In Afghanistan, the likelihood that it was used is high. The plight of Iraq’s children is an alarm warning people about the horror of this new nuclear warfare.

The demilitarized zone (DMZ) straddles the border extending four kilometers into Kuwait and 10 km into Iraq. It stretches a total of 200 miles. The UN has declared this area a “radioactive contamination zone.” The desert in southern Iraq is ten times more contaminated than Baghdad.

The Iraqi side is under the joint control of the Ministries of Defense and Health and entry is prohibited. However, an astonishing number of people are still farming in this forbidden area. Though a recent investigation revealed that the undergroud water is contaminated, tomatoes grown here are shipped to markets throughout Iraq.

The DMZ is Iraqi tanks destroyed by DU penetrators are contaminated by radiation 200 to 300 times stronger than normal. Bedoin move throughout the desert. They remove parts of tanks destroyed by DU penetrators to sell in town. These parts spread the contamination further.

Credit: Takashi Morizumi.

In the Hospitals
I began taking pictures in the corridor of the leukemia ward of Mansool Children’s Hospital in Baghdad. Mothers with children in their arms pestered me to take their pictures. In 1998 a young girl turned to me sadly and said, “Last night, a child in the next bed died. Tomorrow, it may be my turn.”

After the Gulf War, many premature, low-weight babies were born, largely due to their mothers’ poor nutrition. Since hospitals have almost no antibiotics available, babies with low resistance are highly susceptible to infectious disease. Many fail to escape death.

Fadel, 7-years-old, came from Basra, South of Iraq. Depleted uranium, with its metal toxicity and radiation, has damaged her liver and kidneys. A needle was injected into her body to draw out the abdominal dropsy. Her scream of pain was heard all over the hospital corridor.

Her father, unable to bear her screaming, came out into the corridor.

Half a year later, in December 1998, I brought these pictures and once more visited the Mansool Children’s Hospital. When I presented my picture of Fadel, a doctor said matter-of-factly, “Oh, that one died soon after that.” I showed some other pictures and “This one, too. This one, too. They are dead.” Four to six children die every day at that hospital.

Children are born with hydrocephaly and anencephaly (without brains). Children who survive birth contract skin cancer and leukemia.

Credit: Takashi Morizumi
I first met 8-year-old Safaa at the entrance to the Mansool Children’s Hospital. She was checking out that day and was delighted to be going home after a long stay. She was smiling at everyone. I whipped out my 200-mm lens and took a quick close-up of her smiling face. She looked beautiful in her white shawl.

Suddenly, a breeze from the Tigris River lifted her shawl. Her hand darted up to catch it but the shawl fell from her head. The next instant, her smile was gone. As a side effect of the anti-cancer medicine she was taking to treat her leukemia, she had lost all her hair. Her mother standing next to her whispered, “She’s going home because they’ve run out of medicine.” That whisper was filled with fear.

What You Can Do: Takashi Morizumi’s visit to the US was sponsored by the Global Association for Banning Depleted Uranium Weapons (Hiroshima-Nagasaki-Atlanta), the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, the Nagasaki Testimonial Society and the Global Peacemakers Association.

A US tour of Morizumi’s photos began with an exhibition in Berkeley, California. As Morizumi’s display moves across the nation, each host city will be added to the Global Association’s founding trio of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Atlanta.

The Global Association hopes Americans will buy multiple copies of Morizumi’s booklet for distribution to friends and public officials. The association is also raising funds for support the young victims in Iraq. The ultimate goal is to convince the United Nations and the International Court of Justice to declare the use of DU weapons constitutes a “crime against humanity.”

The tour is being financed by donations and the sales of Morizumi’s book. Donations and checks for copies of “Children of Nuclear War” ($5?) may be sent to the Global Peacemakers Association, PO Box 8867, Atlanta, GA 3116, (404) 898-0586, (Please write “To ban DU Weapons” on your check.)

References: Discounted Casualties: The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium (Akira Tashiro, 2001). Metal of Dishonor. Depleted Uranium: How the Pentagon Radiates Soldiers and Civilians International Action Center, 1997).

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