Skip to main content

Toxic War and the Politics of Uncertainty in Iraq

  • Toby C. Jones (a1)

The long American war on Iraq is not over. In a country ravaged for more than two decades by crippling sanctions and military occupation, the social, cultural, and political-economic legacies of war seem unending. Perhaps even more disturbing, Iraqis now face widespread environmental destruction and a dystopian environmental future. The ecological wages of America's long war in Iraq are partly the consequence of “routine” violence, resulting from the systemic destruction of vital electrical, water, and sewage infrastructure over two decades. It is possible to imagine that Iraq's cities and villages can be rebuilt. But even if it finds its way to the kind of political accommodation that makes reconstruction possible, parts of the country face other pernicious long-term environmental threats, among the most dangerous being the hidden toxic and radiological dangers that have settled in Iraqi bodies and deep in its landscape.

Hide All


1 For a more sustained argument about America's long war in the Middle East, see Jones, Toby Craig, “America, Oil, and War in the Middle East,” Journal of American History 99 (2012): 208–18.

2 See Gordon, Joy, Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010).

3 For more on the human and environmental costs of the Iraq war, see a series of wide-ranging and provocative essays at (accessed 17 June 2014).

4 Omar Dewachi, “The Toxicity of Everyday Survival in Iraq,”, 13 August 2013.

5 Al-Sabbak, M. et al., “Metal Contamination and the Epidemic of Congenital Birth Defects in Iraqi Cities,” Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 89 (2012): 937–44.

6 Peterson, Scott, “Depleted Uranium Haunts Kosovo and Iraq,” Middle East Report 215, vol. 30 (2000).

7 This claim is made by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; see (accessed 17 June 2014).

8 The WHO explained that “Since the issue of associating CBD with exposure to depleted uranium has not been included in the scope of this particular study, establishing a link between the CBD prevalence and exposure to depleted uranium would require further research by competent agencies/institutions.” See (accessed 18 June 2014).

9 For a sample of international skepticism on DU's toxic impact, see Radiological Conditions in Selected Areas of Southern Iraq with Residues of Depleted Uranium, IAEA, Austria, June 2010; The Royal Society, The Health Effects of Depleted Uranium Munitions, Document 6/02, March 2002; and Zwijnenburg, Wim, In a State of Uncertainty: Impact and Implications of the Use of Depleted Uranium in Iraq (Utrecht: IKV Pax Christi, 2013).

10 Layth Mula-Hussain, “Cancer in Iraq: The Dilemma Continues,” 31 May 2014,

11 Proctor, Robert, Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2012); Oreskes, Naomi and Conway, Erik M., Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (New York: Bloomsbury, 2010).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Journal of Middle East Studies
  • ISSN: 0020-7438
  • EISSN: 1471-6380
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-middle-east-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed