Chemical weapons used in Iraq by US military, says Italian documentary

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Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Map of Fallujah

A documentary aired on November 8 on an Italian state-run satellite channel RAI claims that the United States military used chemical weapons and napalm-like bombs during a bombardment of Fallujah in November 2004. The documentary, entitled Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre, asserts that the US military used white phosphorus on the civilian population during the bombardment, and backs these allegations with interviews with former US soldiers as well as residents of Fallujah.

White phosphorus is a spontaneously flammable chemical used in battlefield illumination or to generate smoke screens. Contact with the substance results in burning and melting of skin and flesh. According to an account of a former US soldier, the phosphorus explodes and forms a plume, killing everyone within a 150 metre radius. The smoke produced by burning phosphorous converts to hot, concentrated phosphoric acid on contact with human skin, eyes, lungs and mucous membranes producing characteristic chemical burns internally and externally. White phosphorus is also a highly toxic substance with an average lethal dose (LD50) of 50 milligrams; lethal intoxication causes a slow death after 5 to 10 days.

White phosphorus bombs are considered incendiary devices, though RAI claims that they are chemical weapons. The US military admits using white phosphorus to illuminate battlefields, but denies having used it as a weapon against civilians. The United States has ratified the Chemical Weapons Convetion (CWC), but has not ratified the "Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons (Protocol III)" which forbids the use of incendiary weapons against places with concentrations of civilians.

A statement issued by the United States in December 2004 pointed out that phosphorus shells are not outlawed, and that "US forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes." RAI's film, however, alleges that the US has attempted to destroy footage of use of white phosphorus on civilians in Fallujah.

"A rain of fire fell on the city, the people struck by this multi-coloured substance started to burn, we found people dead with strange wounds, the bodies burned but the clothes intact," says Mohamad Tareq, a biologist in Fallujah interviewed for the film. Jeff Englehart, a former US soldier, describes on the documentary: "Burned bodies, burned women, burned children; white phosphorus kills indiscriminately... When it makes contact with skin, then it's absolutely irreversible damage, burning flesh to the bone."

The Pentagon has previously claimed that white phosphorous was only used for illumination purposes in Fallujah: “U.S. forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.” However, the documentary clearly shows two types of munitions being used:

  • LUU-2 Parachute flares for illumination.
  • White phosphorous incendiaries being used to attack a large residental area. This corroborates the eyewitness testimony in the documentary claiming many civilians were killed in their homes by incendiary and caustic materials.

The Pentagon and the U.S. Administration stopped short of denying the claims that white phosporus was used in Fallujah, although U.S. Marine Major Tim Keefe insisted that it was not used to "target" civilians. The use of incendiary weapons against civilians is banned by an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions that was added in 1980, however the United States did not sign this protocol and it does not directly cover the use of toxic smokes.

The documentary also implies that US troops used Mark 77 incendiary bombs[1] in Fallujah, which contain an upgraded napalm formulation. The main difference to Vietnam-era napalm being the replacement of gasoline with kerosene in the mixture, and it is reported that the mixture contains oxidizing agents, including white phosphorus. The US military does not call MK77 munitions "napalm" bombs. However, the use of MK77 munitions against Iraqi troops in 2003 had a "strikingly similar" effect to napalm as confirmed in August 2003 by the US military representatives Col. Randolph Alles and Col. Michael Daily.

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