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Our gift to Iraq

by Al Kennedy Monday, Jul. 14, 2003 at 10:37 AM

Due to the dreadfully unpatriotic behaviour of Robin Cook and the BBC, many of you are now experiencing what we might call worry

You're mumbling anxious nonsense like, "Surely, it was obvious that Iraq's new democratically poisonous water supplies, freedom-loving house-to-house searches, its sexy, western-style press censorship and friendly, illegal interrogations might not entirely please Iraqis."

Why, I'll bet you're allowing phrases like "playing Russian roulette with other people's lives" and "blood-soaked, greedy, Westminster scum" to creep into otherwise respectable conversations. You may even worry that Tony Blair has misplaced his soul. But worries cause disease. So to keep us all happy and healthy, let's focus on the one real feelgood factor left in Iraq - depleted uranium.

That it is left all over Iraq just shows how much we care, because DU is gorgeous stuff - gorgeous uranium-238 with a dash of gorgeous uranium-235. It's cheap, if you're subsidising nuclear power to the hilt, and frankly we have whole slag heaps of it to dump. It's almost twice as heavy as lead, so it's great for armour plating, radiation shielding, ballast in missiles and aircraft counterweights.

It's splendid for shells and - better yet - it's pyrophoric. Which is to say, if you bang it into anything, it produces blasting amounts of heat.

War, naturally, involves many things banging into each other. If we're not wasting our own troops by mistake, there's always enemy action to consider, plus accidents and malfunctions - it's not all shiny flightsuits and blasphemous profiteering: combat has it's dark side, too.

A few of you have heard that DU is toxic and radioactive, and maybe you're fretting about that. With so many vehicles containing DU and so much DU ammunition rattling about and the possibilities of violence being fairly high, DU could be released into the environment and come into contact with people, even British people.

And I won't lie to you, there is a tiny chance that the tons of DU fired at and in Iraq may also have landed there. And some of it may have been slightly damaged on impact. But that's no cause for concern, because measures are in place to deal absolutely effectively with every possible scenario.

First, to prevent heavy metal poisoning from DU, we recommend that all personnel in a vehicle hit by DU, or in a vehicle made of DU and hit by something else, or in a vehicle hit by anything and contain ing DU ammunition or parts, should aim to be somewhere else during impact. If this proves impossible, DU should not be inhaled, allowed into open wounds or swallowed. Given that personnel do not always wear respiratory equipment and protective suits (because they're hot and may not work), we advise holding their breath until operations are concluded.

Personnel should avoid being wounded and, above all, should avoid being wounded near DU dust or DU shrapnel. If they are wounded by DU, they should cover wounds with duct tape, to prevent contaminating others. They should also refrain from eating shrapnel, licking dust, licking each other, or having meals without washing their hands. They should avoid going to the toilet for the duration.

Second, to prevent radiation poisoning, personnel should be informed that DU produces mainly alpha particles. These are a good type of particle because they can barely penetrate paper, never mind skin. Of course, they're the worst possible kind to have under your skin, but the recommended precautions will prevent this. If they do end up in your body, cover yourself in duct tape and fill in the form that the medic will give you at the end of his forked stick.

The best way to avoid contamination is to keep away from battlefields, sand dunes where other personnel have been decontaminated and any damaged vehicles, buildings, craters and corpses. If you suspect that an area has been hit by DU, look for tell-tale black uranium oxide dust, melted uranium, melted entry and exit holes, and radioactive shrapnel.

If you find DU to be present, hold your breath, eat nothing, shut your eyes and wash immediately in sterile water for not less than one hour. Then fill in another form.

By employing these simple procedures, British personnel can keep themselves almost healthy, at least until they get home. Iraqis exposed to DU will already be home, so that's one weight off their minds. But for those who are still troubled, here are Tony Blair's three DU safety rules: 1) Minimise exposure - get troops and innocent civilians to deal with the shit for you. 2) Maximise distance - stay far away from combat zones. 3) Use shielding - place maximum spin between you and any contamination source. Follow these rules and you too can be happy, healthy and worry-free.

comment@guardian.co.uk



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