The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that Iraq, with a population of about 26 million, in the year 2000 had a total of 195,374 new cases of cancer and 126,677 cancer deaths, most of them children.

From 1990 to 1999, the cancer rate rose 242 percent in southern Iraq alone and birth defects increased tenfold.

Before the 1991 Gulf War, children made up 13 percent of cancer cases. By 2002, 56 percent of all cancer cases were in children under 5.

Of the 580,400 U.S. troops that served in the six-week Gulf War, 11,000 had died by the year 2000, and 325,000 are on permanent disability for physical or emotional injuries. Only 269 died in combat, while only 457 were wounded.

In 2001, I visited the Basra Children’s Hospital in Iraq. All rooms and hallways were overflowing with children dying from various forms of cancer. Many others were dying from diarrhea due to sewage-polluted water. Water refineries had been bombed during the war. The bombing of water treatment plants, power plants and the like are considered a war crime according to the UN.

The head doctor told us the children would all die because of U.S.-imposed sanctions. Due to the sanctions, medicine and parts to repair the water plants could not be obtained. He gave us dozens of pictures of the hundreds of deformed babies born in the area.

Here in the U.S., I have been in touch with Birth Defect Research for Children. This organization has compared the number of birth defects in children born to Gulf War veterans with the number for the average American family. Their research surveyed almost three dozen birth defects normally caused by exposure to radiation and revealed that babies born to the veteran parents had two to four times as many of certain specific defects.

What can be the cause of all these cancers and birth defects? Medical experts throughout the world agree that the depleted uranium used in our weapons and military equipment is responsible, despite U.S. officials’ claims that they have no idea as to the cause.

Starting in the 1960s, the U.S. government began investigating ways to utilize the countless thousands of tons of uranium left over from our atomic power plants and the manufacture of our atomic weapons. They mixed the uranium with other metals and cheaply produced the densest metal ever known. Put into everything from small artillery to the largest of bombs and into the armor of our tanks, it will penetrate almost anything.

But there is one enormous disadvantage. When the weapons or tanks explode, countless millions of dust-size toxic uranium particles are dispersed into the air, soil and water, to remain there for literally billions of years. Carried aloft by winds and sandstorms, even very small amounts inhaled by anyone are likely to result in various types of cancer.

The radioactive particles also directly affect the DNA and the reproductive system to create any of over 3,000 known birth defects.

At least 320 tons of depleted uranium were used in the Gulf War, mostly in southern Iraq.

Since 2003, we have used over 2,000 tons — over six times the amount used in 1991. Our troops, the innocent Iraqi people and the children not yet born are the victims of our government’s illegal and inhumane use of depleted uranium. Truly these are weapons of mass destruction.

Bud Deraps ( is a World War II Navy veteran in St. Louis.