Commentary: left in the desert the environmental fallout of the Iraq War.

Author:Hanks, Steven D.

The fiery furnace of the Iraqi desert bears witness to some of the most appalling environmental conditions in the world. Alongside the human suffering in the drawn-out Iraq War exists a struggling and ravaged land. The U.S. coalition's occupation of Iraq has threatened a fragile ecosystem with more than just the tools of war. Complicating matters is an unstable, provisional government that does not have the means, or the manpower, to protect the land. But with billions of dollars flowing into the region, it would simply take a little recognition and focused effort to get the environmental tragedy under control.


The influx of massive numbers of troops has brought stress upon the Middle Eastern desert. Despite sky-darkening sandstorms and oppressive heat, the Mesopotamian desert is not a dead world. The ecology of the desert environment is diverse and self-sustaining. But it is also a carefully balanced mix of flora and fauna that does not react well to aggressive external incursion. The thousands of plant species, dozens of terrestrial mammals, and untold numbers of reptiles, amphibians and insects have all been pushed to the brink without the protection of an environmental sustainability policy.

Along with the influx of combat troops comes the support required to keep those troops viable. U.S. tax dollars encourage contractors to flood into the desert in numbers that dwarf that of the combat force. With all these auxiliary civilians come the trappings and byproducts of civilian society. There seems to be little or no concern for the immediate or future environmental implications as machinery grinds across the arid landscape. If policies to mitigate this effect exist, they are neither mandated nor adhered to.

As if the hazardous materials generated by conducting an ongoing military campaign were not enough, the waste generated by the untold thousands of civilians compounds the problem. Civilians create excess amounts of garbage that is included in the military's massive open burns. Choking the sky with black smoke, these burns can be seen from miles away. The stench of burning trash permeates the air and infects the soil, containing high levels of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, arsenic, mercury and barium. These compounds cause reactions ranging from mild irritation to deadly disease among the local population and wildlife. And these open burns do not allow for the complete combustion of refuse, due to their...

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