Trash talk in Iraq

It’s the diplomatic, strategic and fiscal boondoggle that keeps, well, taking, I guess. The war of choice in Iraq has already cost the United States a great many lives and vast sums that obviously could have been better spent, say preparing for deep water oil mishaps, developing an alternative energy industry or preventing mass layoffs in public education—its total projected costs now easily exceed $2 trillion. Now a Times of London investigation suggests the U.S. will have to make good on another tab run up during the nation’s seven-plus years in Iraq: the cleanup costs. According to The Times, the U.S. military did not exactly follow a “keep Iraq beautiful” campaign when it came to the inevitable waste generated by its broad presence in Iraq.

As the mission winds down and the U.S. military decommissions hundreds of bases around the country, the disturbing scale of a widespread problem in hazardous waste disposal is becoming more evident. We may not be able to leave behind a functioning multiparty democracy in Iraq, but according to The Times our “toxic legacy” there appears certain: “An investigation by The Times in five Iraqi provinces has found that hazardous material from US bases is being dumped locally rather than sent back to America, in clear breach of Pentagon rules. North and west of Baghdad, engine oil is leaking from 55-gallon drums into dusty ground, open acid canisters sit within easy reach of children, and discarded batteries lie close to irrigated farmland."


According to The Times, a private contractor working for the U.S. military estimates that perhaps 5,000 tons of hazardous waste will be left behind by departing troops. “But even this figure appears to be only a partial estimate. Brigadier General Kendall Cox, who is responsible for engineering and infrastructure in Iraq, told The Times yesterday that he was in the process of disposing of 14,500 tonnes of oil and soil contaminated with oil. 'This has accumulated over seven years,” he said.'"

The unfortunate General Cox, put in the unhappy position of explaining all this to The Times, says the United States is committed to a thorough cleanup before we turn the lights out on Iraq. An Iraqi waste contractor blames the mess on Kuwaiti and Lebanese waste subcontractors hired by the military, who, he alleges, illegally, and extravagantly, dumped at undisclosed local sites materials they were being paid to dispose of safely. Ultimately, of course, the responsibility for the toxic military waste—anything from simple motor oil to dangerous acids to artillery propellant—falls properly on Uncle Sam. The dangerous chemicals are already injuring Iraqi scrap metal workers unlucky enough to come in contact with them after purchasing supposedly "safe" scrap materials and it is currently anyone's guess what effect the toxic leftovers may have on Iraqi generations to come; they already have enough to contend with from Saddam Hussein's chemically-enhanced reign of terror and detonations of chemical dumps during the first Gulf War and in the intervening years before the second.

Nirmeen Othman, the Iraqi Environment Minister, is launching an official investigation, apparently determined to ensure that before they leave, the Americans take out the trash.

Kevin Clarke

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
ed gleason
7 years 11 months ago
There is such a condition about both people and nations  being co-dependent. How about leaving a Google map of places that need attention.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The Holy Spirit might be the forgotten person of the Holy Trinity.
James Martin, S.J.May 21, 2018
Pope Francis walks past cardinals as he leaves a consistory in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican June 28, 2017. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis is trying to ensure that those who elect his successor are humble men committed to “a church of the poor and for the poor.”
Gerard O’ConnellMay 21, 2018
James Martin, S.J. discusses this groundbreaking exhibition with Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute and C. Griffith Mann, Michel David-Weill Curator in Charge of the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
America StaffMay 21, 2018
Archbishop Matteo Zuppi (Photo/Community of Sant'Egidio website)
Archbishop Matteo Zuppi of Bologna calls Father James Martin’s book ‘Building a Bridge’ ‘useful for encouraging dialogue, as well as reciprocal knowledge and understanding.’
Matteo ZuppiMay 21, 2018