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Saddam's Iraq: Key events
Aftermath from 1991

Environmental cost from 1991 A burnt-out tank in front of burning oil wells in Kuwait
The post-war clean-up took a decade
A legacy of the 1991 Gulf War was one of the world’s worst ever environmental disasters.

As the allies bombed Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s occupying forces opened the taps of Kuwait’s oil wells, spewing some eight million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

The Iraqis also set fire to at least 600 oil wells, creating a huge black cloud of smoke over Kuwait.

An oil covered bird after the 1991 Gulf War
Pollution hit sea wildlife severely
It took teams led by the oil industry fire expert Red Adair at least six months to put out the blazes and cap the wells.

And 320 “oil lakes” were left in the desert, which took much of the following decade to clean up. Sea birds, coral reefs and rare turtles were all casualties.

Kuwaiti doctors also suspect the choking pall of smoke of causing a significant rise in cancers, heart disease and respiratory problems.

In Iraq, concerns have been raised about the pollution caused by the allied forces’ use of ammunition and shells enhanced with depleted uranium.

Iraq claims that the radioactive dust left behind when these explode has caused a nine-fold increase in cancer near the southern city of Basra.

Some Gulf War veterans blame DU for illnesses they have suffered since returning from the Gulf.

These claims have not been proven, but even if the radioactivity is not to blame, depleted uranium is a highly toxic heavy metal and has left a legacy of pollution.

Saddam's rise: 1957-79
Iran-Iraq war: 1980-88
Gulf War: 1991
Aftermath: From 1991
Sanctions: 1991-2002
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