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Iraq: Clusters Info Needed from U.S., U.K

Ground-Launched Cluster Munitions Endangering Civilians

The United States and United Kingdom are failing to provide adequate data on their cluster munition strikes in Iraq, and this lack of information is endangering Iraqi civilians, Human Rights Watch charged today.

The U.S. Department of Defense has acknowledged using nearly 1,500 air-dropped cluster bombs, but has not revealed any information about ground-launched cluster munitions, which may have been much more numerous. The U.K. Ministry of Defense has admitted to using more than 2,000 cluster munitions, but like the Pentagon, it has not provided detailed information that deminers need to clear “dud” submunitions, which pose hazards to civilians.

“The United States and United Kingdom need to come clean on what they’ve done with these weapons,” said Reuben Brigety, researcher with the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. “They are not doing all they can to protect civilians from the deadly after-effects of their cluster attacks.”

Submunitions from artillery projectiles and multiple launch rockets, as well as aircraft cluster bombs, may have produced tens of thousands of hazardous duds in numerous locations in Iraq, including urban areas, Brigety said. He urged the United States and United Kingdom to provide adequate warnings to civilians, including realistic images of dud submunitions, and assist in all ways possible with the clearance of cluster munition duds.

Mine action organizations and others in the humanitarian community have not received detailed information on the locations, numbers and types of cluster munitions used in combat in Iraq, including types used for the first time.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense admitted on April 24 that its forces had used 2,100 cluster munition artillery projectiles and at least 66 BL-755 cluster bombs in the conflict. In Yugoslavia/Kosovo, the United Kingdom used 500 cluster bombs, and in the 1991 Gulf War, it used 395 cluster bombs and an unknown number of surface-delivered cluster munitions.

The artillery projectile used by the United Kingdom, called the L20A1, contains 49 submunitions, each equipped with a self-destruct device, which the manufacturer claims reduces the dud rate to below 2 percent. The out-of-date BL-755 cluster bombs produced a large number of unexploded duds in combat operations in Kuwait and Yugoslavia/Kosovo. There have also been reports that U.K. ground forces used Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, which have a submunition dud rate of 16 percent or more.

Unlike the U.K., the U.S. has not revealed the number of ground-launched cluster munitions used in Iraq. An unnamed U.S. defense official told a reporter for Los Angles Times that the U.S. does not keep track of ground launched cluster munitions.

“If the Pentagon doesn’t keep track of ground-launched cluster munitions, it had better start,” said Brigety. “This information is very important, especially when the weapon has been improperly used in urban areas.”

Several of the ground-launched cluster munitions in service with U.S. and U.K. forces produce an unacceptably high percentage of de facto landmines when they fail to function on impact. Official U.S. data documents a minimum of 14 to 16 percent dud rates for common ground launched cluster munitions. These dud rates climb when the impact environment includes vegetation or structures.

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