George Monbiot / The Guardian – 2005-11-18 08:43:29
US Used Chemical Weapons in Iraq — Then Lied about It
George Monbiot/ The Guardian
(November 15, 2005) — Did US troops use chemical weapons in Falluja? The answer is yes. The proof is not to be found in the documentary broadcast on Italian TV last week, which has generated gigabytes of hype on the internet. It’s a turkey, whose evidence that white phosphorus was fired at Iraqi troops is flimsy and circumstantial. But the bloggers debating it found the smoking gun.
The first account they unearthed in a magazine published by the US army. In the March 2005 edition of Field Artillery, officers from the 2nd Infantry’s fire support element boast about their role in the attack on Falluja in November last year: “White Phosphorous. WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [high explosive]. We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.”
The second, in California’s North County Times, was by a reporter embedded with the marines in the April 2004 siege of Falluja. “‘Gun up!’ Millikin yelled … grabbing a white phosphorus round from a nearby ammo can and holding it over the tube. ‘Fire!’ Bogert yelled, as Millikin dropped it. The boom kicked dust around the pit as they ran through the drill again and again, sending a mixture of burning white phosphorus and high explosives they call ‘shake’n’bake’ into… buildings where insurgents have been spotted all week.”
White phosphorus is not listed in the schedules of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It can be legally used as a flare to illuminate the battlefield, or to produce smoke to hide troop movements from the enemy. Like other unlisted substances, it may be deployed for “Military purposes… not dependent on the use of the toxic properties of chemicals as a method of warfare”. But it becomes a chemical weapon as soon as it is used directly against people. A chemical weapon can be “any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm”.
White phosphorus is fat-soluble and burns spontaneously on contact with the air. According to globalsecurity.org: “The burns usually are multiple, deep, and variable in size. The solid in the eye produces severe injury. The particles continue to burn unless deprived of atmospheric oxygen… If service members are hit by pieces of white phosphorus, it could burn right down to the bone.”
As it oxidises, it produces smoke composed of phosphorus pentoxide. According to the standard US industrial safety sheet, the smoke “releases heat on contact with moisture and will burn mucous surfaces… Contact… can cause severe eye burns and permanent damage.”
Until last week, the US state department maintained that US forces used white phosphorus shells “very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes”. They were fired “to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters”. Confronted with the new evidence, on Thursday it changed its position.
“We have learned that some of the information we were provided … is incorrect. White phosphorous shells, which produce smoke, were used in Fallujah not for illumination but for screening purposes, ie obscuring troop movements and, according to… Field Artillery magazine, ‘as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes…’ The article states that US forces used white phosphorus rounds to flush out enemy fighters so that they could then be killed with high explosive rounds.”
The US government, in other words, appears to admit that white phosphorus was used in Falluja as a chemical weapon.
US Lied about Use of Napalm in Iraq
The invaders have been forced into a similar climbdown over the use of napalm in Iraq. In December 2004, the Labour MP Alice Mahon asked the British armed forces minister Adam Ingram “whether napalm or a similar substance has been used by the coalition in Iraq (a) during and (b) since the war”. “No napalm,” the minister replied, “has been used by coalition forces in Iraq either during the war-fighting phase or since.”
This seemed odd to those who had been paying attention. There were widespread reports that in March 2003 US marines had dropped incendiary bombs around the bridges over the Tigris and the Saddam Canal on the way to Baghdad. The commander of Marine Air Group 11 admitted that “We napalmed both those approaches”. Embedded journalists reported that napalm was dropped at Safwan Hill on the border with Kuwait.
In August 2003, the Pentagon confirmed that the marines had dropped “mark 77 firebombs”. Though the substance these contained was not napalm, its function, the Pentagon’s information sheet said, was “remarkably similar”. While napalm is made from petrol and polystyrene, the gel in the mark 77 is made from kerosene and polystyrene. I doubt it makes much difference to the people it lands on.
‘The US Government Lied to Him’
So in January this year, the MP Harry Cohen refined Mahon’s question. He asked “whether Mark 77 firebombs have been used by coalition forces”. The US, the minister replied, has “confirmed to us that they have not used Mark 77 firebombs, which are essentially napalm canisters, in Iraq at any time”. The US government had lied to him. Mr Ingram had to retract his statements in a private letter to the MPs in June.
We were told that the war with Iraq was necessary for two reasons. Saddam Hussein possessed biological and chemical weapons and might one day use them against another nation. And the Iraqi people needed to be liberated from his oppressive regime, which had, among its other crimes, used chemical weapons to kill them.
Tony Blair, Colin Powell, William Shawcross, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, Ann Clwyd and many others referred, in making their case, to Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds in Halabja in 1988. They accused those who opposed the war of caring nothing for the welfare of the Iraqis.
Given that they care so much, why has none of these hawks spoken out against the use of unconventional weapons by coalition forces? Ann Clwyd, the Labour MP who turned from peace campaigner to chief apologist for an illegal war, is, as far as I can discover, the only one of these armchair warriors to engage with the issue.
In May this year, she wrote to the Guardian to assure us that reports that a “modern form of napalm” has been used by US forces “are completely without foundation. Coalition forces have not used napalm — either during operations in Falluja, or at any other time”. How did she know? The foreign office minister told her.
Before the invasion, Clwyd travelled through Iraq to investigate Saddam’s crimes against his people. She told the Commons that what she found moved her to tears. After the invasion, she took the minister’s word at face value, when a 30-second search on the internet could have told her it was bunkum. It makes you wonder whether she really gave a damn about the people for whom she claimed to be campaigning.
Saddam, facing a possible death sentence, is accused of mass murder, torture, false imprisonment and the use of chemical weapons. He is certainly guilty on all counts. So, it now seems, are those who overthrew him.
US Admits Using White Phosphorous in Falluja
WASHINGTON (November 16, 2005) — US forces yesterday made their clearest admission yet that white phosphorus was used as a weapon against insurgents in Iraq. A Pentagon spokesman told the BBC last night that it had been used as “an incendiary weapon” during the assault last year on Falluja in 2004.
Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable said the substance, which can be used to lay smokescreens but burns down to the bone in contact with skin, was not covered by international conventions on chemical weapons.
But Paul Rodgers of the University of Bradford’s Department of Peace Studies said the substance would probably fall into the category of chemical weapons if used directly against people.
The Pentagon spokesman’s comments also appeared to contradict the US ambassador to London, Robert Tuttle, who denied in a letter to the Independent that white phosphorus was deployed as a weapon. Mr Tuttle said: “US forces participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom continue to use appropriate lawful conventional weapons against legitimate targets. US forces do not use napalm or white phosphorus as weapons.”
A recent documentary by the Italian state broadcaster, RAI, claimed that Iraqi civilians, including women and children, had died of burns caused by white phosphorus during the assault on Falluja. The report has been strenuously denied by the US. But Col Venable said it had been used to dislodge enemy fighters from entrenched positions in the city.
“White phosphorus is a conventional munition. It is not a chemical weapon. They are not outlawed or illegal,” he told the BBC. “We use them primarily as obscurants, for smokescreens or target marking in some cases. However, it is an incendiary weapon, and may be used against enemy combatants.”
Asked if it was used as an offensive weapon during the siege of Falluja, he replied: “Yes, it was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants. When you have enemy forces that are in covered positions that your high explosive artillery rounds are not having an impact on, and you wish to get them out of those positions, one technique is to fire a white phosphorus round into the position: the combined effects of the fire and smoke – and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground – will drive them out of the holes so you can kill them with high explosives.”
The Guardian columnist George Monbiot said yesterday that accounts of the use of white phosphorous during the battle for Falluja were published in the March 2005 edition of Field Artillery, a magazine published by the US army. A reporter with California’s North County Times, embedded with the marines during the offensive, also reported soldiers firing into buildings a mixture of white phosphorous and high explosives known as “shake’n’bake”.
White phosphorous burns spontaneously on contact with air, producing phosphorus pentoxide smoke. According to the standard US industrial safety sheet, the smoke “releases heat on contact with moisture, and will burn mucous surfaces. Contact … can cause severe eye burns and permanent damage.”
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Propaganda Nightmare of Chemical Hypocrisy
<>Bronwen Maddox / The Times
(November 17, 2005) — How damaged is the US by the row over its use of white phosphorus in Fallujah last year? On the facts available now, it is within the letter of the law, even though it has not signed the most relevant protocol on the use of the weapon.
But that assertion depends on the US claim that there were few civilians left in Fallujah by the time the assault began last November. There is strong evidence to support the US position. But conflicting reports, inevitable in the circumstances, leave room for debate, and even more for rumour.
Even if the US is right on the legality, there is no question that it has inflicted a serious propaganda blow on itself. No matter the technical explanations of how useful the chemical is in flushing out insurgents from cellars. In using a weapon notorious in Vietnam, with effects on the human body straight from a science fiction film, it has given a gift to its enemies. It is now loudly accused of hypocrisy: justifying the war partly by Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons, but then using particularly nasty ones itself.
Worse: the muddle of official denials, followed by an admission of use (in a limited sense), has fuelled those who disbelieve every American assertion.
The most directly applicable international law is Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons. Under this, the use of white phosphorus is prohibited as an incendiary weapon against civilian populations. It is also banned (with clear inspiration from Vietnam) in air attacks against military forces in civilian areas.
The US is not a signatory to Protocol III, although Britain and 80 other countries are. Defence Secretary John Reid said this week that British troops “do not use white phosphorus . . . for anything other than a smokescreen to protect our troops when in action”.
So the US has no problem arguing that it has broken no law to which it is a signatory. But it can also argue that it has not broken Protocol III — provided that its claim that civilians had left Fallujah before the attack started is right.
It strongly denies the claim by an Italian documentary that it used the weapon against civilians. It is true that it gave them clear warning over days, and an estimated 300,000 people did leave. But the US’s critics say that many remained.
The US is a signatory to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, but denies that this covers white phosphorus.
The convention bans the use of any “toxic chemical” weapons that cause “death, harm or temporary incapacitation to humans or animals through their chemical action on life processes”. It says that the effect is incendiary, not chemical.
But even if it considers itself on firm legal ground, it has created a nightmare of public relations at the point when it is trying to court support in Europe and the Middle East.
Allegations of unusual weapons have been around since the assault. The US denied them, until internet bloggers unearthed personal accounts by the US military. On Tuesday Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Venable said that the substance had been used as an “incendiary weapon against enemy combatants”, contradicting earlier statements by the London and Rome ambassadors, and the State Department website.
If there was anything that could make perceptions worse, it was the military slang of “shake and bake” attacks, phosphorus being the “bake” part.
It will take a lot of work by Karen Hughes, the President’s emissary, to improve the American image abroad, to make up for the incendiary effect on hearts and minds.
MPs Call for Tighter Rules on
Battlefield Use of Phosphorus
Michael White and Richard Norton-Taylor / The Guardian
LONDON (November 17, 2005) — MPs urged the government last night to seek tougher international rules against the use of chemical weapons in warfare after the United States belatedly confirmed that its forces in Iraq used white phosphorus to flush out opponents during the 2004 siege of Falluja.
The controversy yesterday saw Iraqi government officials dispatch an investigatory team to the devastated city – a centre of insurgency against the occupation – to establish the truth of what happened.
With the defence secretary, John Reid, endorsing the US insistence that white phosphorus is not a weapon under current definitions, loyalist Labour MPs such as Mike Gapes joined regular critics of the US-led invasion of Iraq in calling for a review. “There is an issue here about whether the chemical weapons convention should be strengthened to include this particular substance, because it is defined as an incendiary, not a chemical weapon,” Mr Gapes, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, told Radio 4’s World at One.
Another Labour MP, former armed forces minister Doug Henderson, said: “It exposes the fact that double standards have applied.”
Since the Guardian columnist George Monbiot highlighted discrepancies in US accounts of weapons used in the bloody battle of Falluja this week, the Pentagon has backtracked on earlier denials by the state department and its ambassador to the UK, Robert Tuttle, that white phosphorus had been deployed. The charge was first made by Iraqi insurgents, aware of the potency of the issue in view of Saddam Hussein’s notorious use of chemicals against his own people, and taken up by the Italian TV channel RAI.
US admissions of its use of the napalm-like substance, which can melt flesh to the bone, are qualified by the insistence that white phosphorus was used to smoke out the enemy, not to kill them. The US is not a signatory to protocol III of the 1980 convention on conventional weapons, which prohibits its use as an incendiary weapon against civilians or in civilian areas. British forces have used white phosphorus for many years but not as a weapon, defence sources said yesterday.
Mr Reid told reporters during a visit to a Nato exercise in Germany that the British army only used white phosphorus to provide smokescreen cover on operations. “The Americans have to answer the questions which are put to them on this issue … I can only answer for the British,” he said.
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