BY ROHAN PEARCE
On April 1, US warplanes dropped cluster bombs on the Iraqi town of Hilla. The deadly anti-personnel weapons are also believed to have been used in assaults on Najaf, Nasiriya and Basra by US-led invasion forces. Cluster munitions spray an area with "bomblets", many of which don't explode on impact.
"Iraqi civilians will be paying the price with their lives and limbs for many years" because of the use of cluster bombs, commented Steve Goose, the executive director of the arms division of the Washington-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW). "The United States should not be using these weapons."
HRW has identified the use of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems by the US military — weapons which exclusively cluster munition payloads. A report submitted to US Congress in February 2000 revealed that the MLRS's submunitions have a failure rate of 16%. "Thus", an April 1 HRW media release notes, "the typical volley of 12 MLRS rockets would likely result in more than 12000 dud submunitions scattered randomly in a 120,000 to 240,000 square metre impact area".
Other cluster weapons the group has identified as being used by the US military have "dud" rates ranging from 2-14%.
During the war on Afghanistan, the US dropped around 1230 cluster bombs between October 2001 and March 2002, producing a total of at least 248,056 bomblets. According to a HRW report on the use of the weapons in Afghanistan, the cluster bombs used by the US disperse their deadly cargo of bomblets over an area ranging from a 183-metre radius up to 458 metres.
HRW has called for a global moratorium on the use of cluster munitions, "until the humanitarian problems caused by the weapons are addressed".
Robert Fisk, the well-respected journalist for the British Independent daily, visited Hilla's hospital in the aftermath of the April 1 attack: "Heartbreaking is the only word to describe 10-year-old Maryam Nasr and her five-year-old sister Hoda. Maryam has a patch over her right eye where a piece of bomblet embedded itself, and wounds to the stomach and thighs.
"I didn't realise that Hoda, standing by her sister's bed, was wounded until her mother carefully lifted the little girl's scarf and long hair to show a deep puncture in the right side of her head, just above her ear, congealed blood sticking to her hair but the wound still gently bleeding.
"Their mother described how she had been inside her home and heard an explosion and found her daughters in a pool of blood near the door. The little girls alternately smiled and hid when I took their pictures. In other wards, the hideously wounded would try to laugh, to show their bravery. It was a humbling experience."
From Green Left Weekly, April 9, 2003.
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