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PC(USA) webinar to explore negative impact of military-related pollution in Iraq

Jan. 18 virtual discussion will focus on health risks of depleted uranium from weapons

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Dan Meyers via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — The Office of Public Witness and some of its partners will hold a webinar Jan. 18 to raise awareness about a health and environmental crisis stemming from depleted uranium in Iraq.

Registration has begun for the noon (Eastern Time) webinar, which is co-sponsored by the Iraq Partnership Network, Presbyterian World Mission and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.

The educational program will help to fulfill a mandate from the 225th General Assembly (2022) that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) raise concerns about and seek remedies for contamination stemming from weaponry that was used during conflicts in Iraq.

“During the Iraq War, the U.S. military used and disposed of depleted uranium in Iraq; this practice has caused health effects among both service personnel and Iraqis,” according to publicity materials for the webinar. “Contamination from depleted uranium (DU) munitions and other military-related pollution is suspected of causing sharp rises in congenital birth defects, cancer cases and other illnesses throughout much of Iraq.”

The webinar will feature a panel discussion moderated by Catherine Gordon, OPW’s representative for international issues. Sue Rheem, who coordinates PMUN, will provide an update from the UN.

Scheduled guests include:

  • Dr. Zuhair Fathallah, a retired assistant professor of plastic reconstructive surgery at Basrah Medical College. He has helped children and adults recover from war-inflicted deformations as well as birth defects.
  • The Rev. Matt Fricker, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and now works with veterans and the Reformed churches in Iraq.
  • Erik K. Gustafson, founder and executive director of the Enabling Peace in Iraq Center. He’s also a U.S. Army veteran and social entrepreneur, focusing on peacebuilding, human rights and humanitarian affairs.

Fricker was part of a discussion last summer by the General Assembly’s International Engagement Committee as it considered INT-09, an overture from the Presbytery of Susquehanna Valley about the depleted uranium issue. He explained that the uranium “is put on top of bombs and missiles, mostly antitank missiles. When it hits its target and bursts, it goes into dust, which enters the water tables, air and climate, so it’s breathed and consumed through water and food.”

The overture, which was approved by both the committee and by GA commissioners, directs PMUN to work with member states to urge a worldwide ban on the military use of depleted uranium. It also calls for the PC(USA) to contact U.S. officials, including the nation’s president and secretary of state, to advocate for several things, including an assessment of the distribution of depleted uranium in Iraq, an epidemiological report of the Iraqi population to discern the health effects of the depleted uranium, and removal and containment of depleted uranium in Iraq with the help of Iraqi workers.

“So often, we as a powerful country go into places and cause harm, and in the occasions we rectify that harm, U.S. corporations make a lot of money,” Cindy Corell, mission advisory delegate, noted during GA. “I am grateful there is part of this that says to work in conjunction with Iraqi companies and workers to do the work so that funds stay in Iraq.”

To register for the webinar, go here.

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